Monday, November 17, 2008

Cancer... Start With Understanding Prevalence

During the period just prior to leaving the Oyster Pond to go to South Florida for the winter, we were blessed with some spectacular weather and sunsets. It gave us memories like this picture which has natures pallet of color... and the rays from the sun through the atmosphere give substance to its otherwise invisible energy.

While watching such brilliance from the deck, Lynnda and I often discuss ways that we can better manage our lives. Among issues that come up are our efforts to minimize our need for healthcare by better caring for ourselves. Because both of us have spent our lives in the healthcare industry (Lynnda was at the McMaster University Medical Center, heading the clinical lab in the Premature Children's Clinic when I met her), we have had opportunities to understand our health options that perhaps others don't have access to... at least until the internet made it available to practically everyone.

Knowing it is available, we also know that many of us don't avail ourselves to it. Many that do, don't live by the obvious options that are clearly open to us in the 21st century. As a result, many of our friends and the general population don't take the opportunities available to avoid many of the diseases that are prevalent in our lives. Among these are cardiovascular and cerebral-vascular diseases (heart and brain attacks), peripheral vascular diseases (PVD), and many cancers.

In the past I have posted on these, but I want now to really try and make the case for us taking personal responsibility and action toward preventing these diseases in ourselves. And, if we don't have the personal drive to do it for ourselves, we should at least make it part of our legacy to ensure that these insidious blights on our past, not remain part of our children's future. Perhaps if you read these posts, you will consider passing them to others, if you think they are beneficial.

First, let's look at what can be done when there is a focus on disease. I have decided to utilize data from the American Cancer Society... Cancer Statistics 2007. Here I will highlight only a few slides in a fantastic presentation that can be viewed at the following link (you can simply click on it)

Years ago, people were dropping like flies from heart attacks and stroke. The American Heart Association and others took up the battle to find ways to save people from the devastation from what in the fifties was almost certain death... heart attacks and strokes. They went after them as separate diseases initially, but found recently that a two part attack could have a huge impact... prevention and intervention on both... and they were similar tactics. Since I want today to focus on cancer, and am only using heart disease and stroke as examples of what can be done with the right focus, I won't go into the tactics... but let's take a look at the results...

This chart shows us that based on the focus applied to heart disease and cerebral vascular disease, there has been a massive reduction in both in the American population (I have not found the offsetting data from Canada, but suffice to say that it is likely close to the same as the US data). There is a stark difference however in the data for cancer from 1950 to 2004... even though we have been throwing money at it at seemingly the same pace as with the heart and brain diseases.

There is little doubt that the 215 or so cancers (see earlier posting with a listing of the known cancers) are a more complex set of causes and cures. But given their costs to society in both money and human suffering, isn't it appropriate to try and change what we have been doing, to perhaps get a different outcome in the next fifty years.

The next two slides demonstrate that (let's extend the US data to include North America for arguement's sake)
men in North America stand a 1 in 2 chance of getting a cancer of one form or another and women a 1 in 3 chance!

I note that these data do not include any simple skin cancers other than melanoma. It would boggle one's mind to add in Basel Cell Carcinoma data... and the costs in dollars and long term human suffering from these yet to be diagnosed and treated "minor cancers".

Following are data that describe the incidents and deaths from the non-skin cancers over the period from 1975 to 2003 separated male from female and the combined.We can see that there are slight decreases in the years after 2002 which was the first year in recorded cancer data that there were fewer deaths from cancer... in 2003 there were around 3,000 fewer deaths than in 2002. But the stark reality is that we are still far above the cancer rates from 1975 when the real comparative rates of cardiovascular disease started to free fall... why?

This next slide breaks the rates above into male and female over the same period, and breaks them into site specific cancer rates. So let's go back to the first two slides and look at the 1 in 2 and 1 in 3 male and female chances of getting cancer... here we can suggest which we are potentially going to get.

I like the graphics because we can easily see the changes over time in the prevalent cancers. For example, look at the data on Lung and Bronchus Cancer... it is going up in women! This after years of inference that smoking has a direct impact on the potential for getting lung cancer. We still allow our children to smoke, and young females are smoking at increasing rates! Why can't we get to them? We hear so much about breast cancer, yet if you look at the two slides blow you may note that while breast cancer will be 26% of the new cancer cases, it will be 'only' 15% of the total deaths... where as Lung Cancer will be 26% of the deaths. There is little we can do to prevent breast cancer... yet the Pink Ribbons are practically ubiquitous in our society. Yet cancer of the lung and bronchi kill far more people and we don't hear anything about it. Why?

Ok, enough about the data... how about the part about what can we do about it? It is the nature of this blogspot, that one has to upload graphics and pictures before writing. So, I am going to sign off on this posting and start the next, that will appear ahead of this. Some day I will figure this out...

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Grad. Saint Mary's University, 1975, got into the medical device business initially in sales, then various management positions up to president, all in Medical Devices. I prefer therapy products over diagnostic, but they are all fun, and in a way have defined my life. I have now evolved, with help from my 35 year partner Lynnda with whom I now share every hour. I am into staying healthy, photography, kayaking, bicycling, gardening and two books a week. I wish I had gotten to this stage earlier!