More than a number: Putting cancer statistics into perspective

CONTRIBUTED BY DR. ANDREW SHAW

We live in the so-called Information Age, when statistical figures abound. However, when it comes to the breadth and scope of cancer, putting those statistics into perspective is helpful.

For example: The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.68 million new cancer cases will be identified in the United States this year. That sounds like a lot, but what if I told you 1.68 million people is almost the population of San Antonio, Waco, and Temple combined?

Here’s another one: An estimated 161,000 men will learn they have prostate cancer this year. That’s more people than fit into a Dallas Cowboys football game and a Texas Tech Red Raiders football game at capacity — combined.

Cancer-related statistics tell an important story about prevention, treatment options, and survivorship, and researching disease trends helps develop cures. Putting the statistics into perspective is key as information is important to knowing with confidence steps you can take to manage your health.

The American Cancer Society notes that 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are preventable. What does that mean for you? The important lesson in that point is all about what you can do to reduce your cancer risk. Excess body weight, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and poor nutrition are known causes of cancer. All are behaviors you can control – limiting bad behavior and leaning into positive steps.

Simply put: Eat right. Exercise. Don’t smoke.

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women, but, 9 out of 10 times, it can be treated successfully when caught early. The math lesson here: Colonoscopies save lives. Cancer screenings, even uncomfortable ones, are necessary. They also can result in less invasive treatment in the instance of a cancer diagnosis. Staying current on screenings and annual exams can increase the odds – yes, more numbers – of detecting cancer early, before it has had a chance to spread. This is especially important if you have a personal or family history of cancer.

Less than 5 percent – that’s the relatively small number of adult cancer patients who participate in clinical trials, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Yet it is through research, with patients willing to try promising treatments, that new breakthroughs are discovered. So it is important we in the oncology field do a better job of explaining the benefits of clinical trial participation to our patients – how they can help themselves and others whose cancer may respond well to the therapies under study.

The ACS estimates that 600,920 cancer-related deaths will occur in 2017. That’s almost as many people who live El Paso. But does your perspective change when I tell you for every three new cancer cases there will be two survivors? That means 1.2 million people will survive cancer this year, a far more positive statistic.

Statistics, numbers. Doing the math when it comes to cancer ultimately comes down to this number: One.

Each patient is one patient, an individual with a unique personal and clinical situation that becomes the focus of medical teams and loved ones gathered together in a community of support.

Shaw is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology-Marble Falls, 1100 Mission Hills Drive, Suite 200, in Marble Falls. Call (830) 798-0149 for more information.

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