Friday, September 19, 2008

Cancer: By The Numbers

Statistics are used and abused so regularly that they have lost the power to impact us. We hear so often that 1 in 5 “this” and 30-percent “that,” and half “the other,” that we don’t really realize what the numbers are saying to us. I don’t know if the numbers I am going to share in this article will be any different. Personal stories are much more likely to tug at our heart-strings and make a real impact.

Given that, let me ask you this: Do you know anyone who has been affected by cancer? Lost a loved one, has a friend who was diagnosed, or is even a survivor themselves? I doubt there’s a person in the world who can answer no to that question. Everywhere you go, someone has a personal story – or several. In my family alone, my uncle and grandfather both died of cancer in the past year, and I was diagnosed two years ago. I’m sure you have a similar story.

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death behind heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2008, they estimate that more than half a million Americans will die from cancer. That number accounts for 22-percent of all deaths - one-third of those deaths from lung cancer alone. From 1950 to today, the death rate from heart disease has dropped dramatically, while cancer deaths have dropped only slightly.

In 1971 Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, and yet 1.5 million Americans are newly diagnosed each year. In terms of personalizing these statistics in order to help them hit home, the ones regarding people under 40 are especially significant to me.

• Cancer incidence in young adults (15-39) has doubled over the past 30 years to nearly 70,000 diagnosis each year.º

• Roughly 10,000 young adults (YA) die each year due to cancer.º

• The 5-year survival rates in YA has not improved over the past 30 years¹ and currently hovers on average in the low-to-mid 60% range. (As compared to high 80's in children and older adults)

• Why? Three reasons: delayed diagnosis, access to clinical trials and age-appropriate peer support that contributes to quality of life.º

These statistics were taken from the website of I’m Too Young for This, a cancer advocacy organization for young adults. The National Cancer Institutes is their source. These are the numbers that frighten me the most. Cancer diagnoses are hitting adults at younger ages – a population that “isn’t supposed to get cancer.” Another organization, SeventyK is advocating for this population and has developed a Young Adult Cancer Bill of Rights to establish a standard of care to meet the needs of this underserved population.

Young adults may also be at greater risk because of lack of health insurance. Between the end of college and the beginning of new careers, many twenty-somethings forego health coverage as an expense they can’t afford. Coupled with the fact that employers are placing more of the burden on employees and other expenses of this age group loom large, new workers who are young, and healthy assume they can go without. As many as 15 million people between the ages of 18 and 34 are now living without medical coverage.

Of course, medical care is becoming a larger issue for all Americans as costs skyrocket and coverage shrinks, even as premiums and deductibles rise. This article from The Philanthropy News Digest details the “perfect storm” of economic factors that is hurting working families. Additionally, President Bush has proposed deep cuts in funding to the CDC, NIH and NCI over the past two years, the first funding decreases since 1970. These three organizations play a vital role in our nation’s health, and the research they fund has the potential to develop new treatments and save thousands of lives.

This month (September) is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, another fact that has personal significance to me. Cancer also got a prime-time slot on all three networks on September 5th, as Stand Up To Cancer aired. The show featured 50 celebrities and medical experts, seeking to raise money to support research since government funding has been cut every year since 2003.

Even as one person, you can make a difference in these numbers. Here’s how:

• VOTE – Who you cast your ballot for, donate to or volunteer for does make a difference this election year. Research candidates at all levels carefully for their stance on healthcare and support of funding for research.
• SUPPORT – causes that are important to you with your time and money. There are countless organizations working on this important issue. Get involved with one or more today.
• SHARE – these and other resources with friends and family members. Knowledge is power. There are great resources to help no matter what your circumstance. Help your loved ones access help.
• CHECK – your own body for signs of trouble. Suspicious moles, strange symptoms, unusual aches and pains could be signs of a larger problem. Listen to your body and seek the advice of a doctor immediately when symptoms occur.