Funny, I Thought Publication Practices Were Why We Haven’t Defeated Cancer

You mean it might have to do with something substantive, like clinical trial issues? Go figure:

Not long ago, at a meeting of an advisory group established by Congress to monitor the war on cancer, participants were asked how to speed progress.
“Everyone was talking about expanding the cancer work force and getting people to stop smoking,” said Dr. Scott Ramsey, a cancer researcher and health economist, who was participating in that January 2008 meeting of the President’s Cancer Panel. “Lots of murmurs of approval.”
Then it was his turn.
The biggest barrier, in his opinion, was that almost no adult cancer patients — just 3 percent — participate in studies of cancer treatments, mostly new drugs or drug regimens.
“To me it was obvious,” Dr. Ramsey said. “We can’t improve survival unless we test new treatments against established ones.”
The room fell silent.
“It was one of those embarrassing moments,” said Dr. Ramsey, an associate professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. He had brought up the subject he said no one wanted to touch.
Forty years after President Richard M. Nixon declared war on cancer, death rates have barely changed. “Why aren’t we getting cures?” Dr. Ramsey said. “This is one of the biggest reasons.”

Who coulda thunk it?

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5 Responses to Funny, I Thought Publication Practices Were Why We Haven’t Defeated Cancer

  1. Edward says:

    “Forty years after President Richard M. Nixon declared war on cancer, death rates have barely changed.”
    This strikes me as an example of how statistics can be half-truths. The death rate is a combination of the incidence of cancer (which I believe has gone up) and the mortality of those who get cancer (which I believe has gone down for most forms of cancer due to better treatment). The latter is the real reason few adults participate in clinical trials – there are already effective treatments for many types of cancer.
    The real question that it sounds like everyone is avoiding is: Why are incidence rates of most cancers increasing?

  2. Theodore says:

    One possible explanation Edward is that we have made dramatic progress towards treating cardiovascular disease which has long been the leading cause of death in America. The second leading cause of death, cancer, is now catching up. In other words people who would have died from cardiovascular disease are now dying later of cancer. Number of deaths (incidence) can be misleading unless age is considered.

  3. Edward says:

    Theodore – while you might have a point, I’ve seen data to indicate that the incidence of childhood cancers is going up, so I think that age-adjusted incidence is going up.

  4. Alex says:

    Edward @ no.3
    I don’t think that is right. The only numbers I have are from Australia since 97, but here the incidence of cancer has remained constant for children aged 0 to 14 years. In the same group the death rate has declined from 3.6 per 100,000 to 2.2 (National cancer statistics clearing house, published in A Picture of Australia’s Children, 2009).
    What you might be talking about is the proportion of deaths due to cancer which may have been increasing, though as Theodore notes this could be due to us curing everything else.

  5. Edward says:

    Actually, the data I saw was pre 1997, going back to about 1900 in the USA for a particular type of cancer, and there was a steady increase in the incidence of that particular childhood cancer from 1900 until the 1970’s or 80’s, and I seem to recall it’s been somewhat level since. I didn’t see any data to indicate an increased incidence in the last decade, so I should have said: why did the incidence of most cancers increase?
    While I agree that not dying from other things could be a factor, I tend to think that increased exposure to carcinogenic industrial products is a bigger factor. Here is an anecdote that was related to me: an assistant prof examined incidence rates of cancer downwind of an oil refinery and found much greater incidence downwind. The owner of the refinery was a major contributor to the assistant prof’s institution, and the assistant prof didn’t get tenure.

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