Monday, September 28, 2009

"Curing" cancer

I ran across a YouTube video of Lewis Black calling for more research into curing cancer.

Let's look into this a little bit.

Everybody's going to die of something someday.

According to this page Google found me, vascular disease (combining the cerebrovascular and coronary categories) accounted for almost 31% of deaths in 2006 in the US. Cancer caused 23%.

But when you talk to people about what they really mean by "finding a cure for cancer," what they really are talking about are the cancers that cut young lives short unexpectedly.

According to this page, cancer deaths in those under 54 years of age accounted for less than 15% of the total deaths due to cancer. Between 55 and 64, a further 17.5%. More than 2/3rds of cancer deaths are people over the age of 65.

The number of people who die of cancer every year under age 65 is about the same as the number of people who die every year from accidents - and accidents, unlike cancer, are a cause of death that is heavily biased towards the youth and away from the elderly. Should we not spend at least as much time, effort, energy and money stumping for accident prevention if we want to reduce the rate of untimely death?

Besides, we do have cures for cancer right now - early detection, genetic screening, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy - all of these things have given people diagnosed with cancer far, far more hope than they ever have had in the past. And to be sure, incremental gains can be made going forward. And that's not to mention the reduced risk of cancer afforded to those who make healthy lifestyle choices in the first place.

But it's not like deciding we're going to spend X amount of dollars and launch a mission to the moon - and once we land, it's "mission accomplished." It's not like there's something that the scientists have just plain missed that's going to make cancer stop killing people. But that's the case for cardiovascular disease, and dementia, and everything else that kills us too.


Anonymous said...

So what's your point exactly? You don't want further research into cancer? Did you vote for Obama LOL?

Nick said...

The point is that perhaps if you look at it in the cold light of day, "urgently finding a cure for cancer," is neither as trivial, nor as urgent, as LB makes it sound.