Lp2 Cancer deaths in 1970 and in 1997

The unaltered or crude cancer death rate per 100,000 US population for the year 1970 is 162.8. Multiply this rate by the US population of that year, 203,302,031 and divide by 100,000, we obtained the total cancer deaths of that year, 330,972. Divide this number by the number of days in a year, we obtain the average number of Americans who died of cancer in 1970 at 907.

Twenty years later, the unaltered cancer death rate for the year 1990 is 505,322, the total population, 248,709,873. The cancer death rate per 100,000 population rose to 203.2. The daily cancer death rate was 1384.

Another six years later, the unaltered estimated total cancer deaths for 1996 was 554,740, the estimated population for that year is 264,755,000. The cancer death rate per 100,000 population for 1996 is 209.5.The daily cancer death rate rose to 1520.

The total number of unaltered cancer deaths in 1997 is 564,800; the US population was 268,921,733. The cancer death rate per 100,000 population for 1997 was 210.0. The number of cancer death per day was 1547.

From the above, it is obvious that since the launching of the War on Cancer in the 1970"s, the cancer death rate has not gone down. Yet time and time news media have been filling front pages with banner headlines proclaiming "Cancer Decline" (Newsay, March 13, 1998, p.A1). The source of this discrepancy between the data cited above and the news reported lies in the so-called "age adjustment" used to convert raw data like those cited above to those cited in the news.

The age adjustment is based on the observation that the cancer death increeases with age and that the percentage of older population has been steadily increasing. There is no need to go into the details how this is done. Suffice it be said that it has definitely an element of arbitrariness. To demonstrate this point, all one needs to do is to compare the two sets of age-adjusted figures reported in the newspapers in 1996 and in 1998. The figures published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Nov. 14, 1996 (p.A1) gave the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 population in 1990 and 1995 respectively as 135 and 129.8, while the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 population for the same two years as given in the March 13, 1998 Newsday are 173.5 and 169 respectively. Yet both newspapers cited the American Cancer Society as the source of their information. Clearly both cannot be right. A difference of 169-129.8 = 39.2 per 100,000 does not represent a trivial difference. It represents more than one hundred thousand cancer deaths.

It is understandable why government and private agencies involved in one way or another in the War on Cancer want to report positive results, so that support they receive can continue to come in. However, by making arbitrarily adjusted numbers may also give the public the false sense of security that everything is just great and that cancer will be soon conquered, whereas in truth great harm might be done in view of the fundamental weaknesses in the on-going cancer-fighting programs described in detail in the home-page (<http://www.gilbertling.org>)

(The 1970 cancer death rate was taken from p.208 of the Universal Almanac, John W.Wright, Ed., Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City and New York. The estimated 1996 cancer deaths figure was taken fromTable 2 in "Cancer Statistics" by S.L. Parker et al, in CA, Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Vol. 65, pp. 5-27, 1996.The 1970 US population was taken from the World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1993, p. 367; the estimated 1996 population was from the 1997 edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, p.382. The 1997 total cancer death figure was obtained from S.H. Landis et al in CA, Cancere Journal for Clinicians, Vol. 48, pp.6-30, 1998, Table 2. The US population for 1997 was obtained from The Official Statistics of the US Census Bureau released on Dec, 24, 1997).