Cancer Deaths – Declining Trend?

Posted on January 18, 2007  Comments (7)

3,000 fewer cancer deaths:

Cancer deaths in the United States dropped for the second year in a row, health officials reported yesterday, confirming that the trend is real and becoming more pronounced, too.

The news was cause for celebration among doctors and politicians. “When we saw the first decline, the number wasn’t that enormous,” Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, a cancer physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center said. “But once you start to see a trend like this, it obviously makes you feel like ‘We must be doing something right! ‘”

Is this really a trend? I have not examined the data at all but I seriously doubt it. People (the media even more so) constantly overreact to variation in data. Maybe I am wrong, certainly I should look at the data and see what it says – and I will if I get some time and remember. But I am more confident in my belief this is more overreaction to random variation than in the headlines. Why? Because so often when I do look more closely at the numbers my general observation of overreaction to random variation is confirmed while news reports talk of “trends.” Hopefully I am wrong this time.

Ok, I couldn’t resist and I did a little looking for some data. This is how crazy it is. The press release from the American Cancer Society states:

An American Cancer Society report shows there was a drop of 3,014 cancer deaths in the United States from 2003 to 2004, the most recent year for which mortality data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics. This drop was significantly larger than the 369 fewer deaths reported for the previous time period (2002 to 2003), which itself marked the first decline in actual number of cancer deaths in the more than 70 years since nationwide data began to be compiled.

In 2004, there were 553,888 deaths from cancer, compared to 556,902 in 2003.

Ok, that tells you the magnitude of this decline – just over .5%. Ok, that isn’t so crazy, John you curious cat, you might say to yourself. How about this, from the same press release?

The American Cancer Society projects there will be 559,650 deaths from cancer in 2007; 289,550 among men and 270,100 among women.

That is a higher number than 2004. What about the real and profound trend?

2007 data from the American Cancer Society

Google News shows hundreds of news articles on this topic: U.S. turning the tide in the war on cancerBush Hails Drop in U.S. Cancer DeathsNext up in the battle against cancer

The precipitous drop in U.S. cancer deaths reported by the American Cancer Society is a testament to the successful efforts of cancer prevention, research and treatment, experts said.

Yes good work is being done to combat cancer. But I sure wish the articles would do a better job of painting a real picture and not talking a fake trends (granted that is just my opinion of what a trend is versus many many others ideas based on the articles they published). The ACS 2007 data report has quite a few interesting charts.

7 Responses to “Cancer Deaths – Declining Trend?”

  1. CuriousCat: Cancer Cure - Not so Fast
    January 31st, 2007 @ 8:18 am

    “To me, it supports my contention in my “Cheap, Safe Cancer Drug?” post, though much more effectively and with supporting evidence. But this is my blog so I get to quote whoever I want…”

  2. CuriousCat Science Journalism
    April 5th, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

    “Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and ‘breakthrough’ stories…”

  3. Robinson Go
    November 14th, 2007 @ 11:32 am

    Good scrutinizing there. The data actually is just not that controversial but it’s like the media just made it ‘big’ and the fact that George Bush is there talking about it, it’s like a setup and to some point aims to mislead whoever reads that.

  4. CuriousCat: Cancer Deaths Increasing, Death Rate Decreasing
    April 1st, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    “Despite a continuing decline in the cancer death rate from 2004 to 2005, there was an increase of 5,424 deaths (559,312 cancer deaths in 2005 compared to 553,888 cancer deaths in 2004)…”

  5. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » 500 Year Floods
    July 13th, 2008 @ 6:49 pm

    actually having a 500 year flood actually increases the odds for it happening again (because the data now includes that case which had not been included before)…

  6. Curious Cat Science Blog » Rate of Cancer Detected and Death Rates Declines
    November 28th, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    The analysis found that the overall incidence of cancer began inching down in 1999, but not until the data for 2005 were analyzed was it clear that a long-term decline was underway… Brawley and others cautioned, however, that part of the reduction could be the result of fewer people getting screened for prostate and breast cancers.

  7. Deepak
    December 9th, 2008 @ 10:07 am

    Cancer is the general name for a group ofmore than 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and even death.

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