Cancer prognosis and statistics

Cancer A~

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As I have mentioned before, cancer has a lot to do with number.  Risk, prognosis, and so on are rooted in some simple types of math.  Statistics are often thought of as cold unfeeling facts that do not help much.  The first part may be true but the last part is far from truth.  However, psychology is very important when people talk about cancer with one another.  statistics (if the numbers are good) help to overcome issues related to bias and personal feeling about things so that we can get a better handle on certain issues related to cancer.  Many of us (if not all) fall into recognizable patterns often; how many times have we heard someone tell us, my friend or relative was cured of this or that.  Most likely we remember that fact and rely on that treatment issue without much thought.  We may even rely on one persons recommendation to take a certain supplement because they swear how he/she has overcome some serious complications etc.  It’s natrual to think like this, but it’s also a bit destructive.  The ‘n’ of one is not a powerful statistic at all.  Anecdotal evidence…many people have told me this or that, is also easy to rely on.  What we miss in the ‘n’ of one or the anecdotal evidence is the others who took the same drug/supplement that had no benefits.  Or we fail to realize that the person who is telling us the evidence is biased or perhaps not accurate at all.  This is often the case for most folks who are promoting self-help, alternative medicines, or supplements…that all too often have little evidence for being effective. 

So what do we do about all of this….well think.  Ask yourself about the evidence before you start buying expensive supplements.  If the person selling you the stuff or your relative who believes in some remedy for the common cold…please ask them to produce some rational evidence to you. 

So what is prognosis?  It is a guess that doctors give that is often based on statistics from a large or even small group of patients who have had the same conditions as you.  More specifically, for cancer patients it is the prediction of the future course and outcome of a cancer and an indication of the likelihood of recovery from that cancer.  So, from this you might guess a few things.  A prognosis is not fact…it’s an educated guess.  A prognosis (an estimate for example of how long you have to live with a particular treatment for example) is limited by the ‘power’ of the number of individuals who have been previously analyzed.  So, if it’s the common forms of breast cancer the prognosis might be really accurate as there is a huge patient number that allow for very good statistical interpretation.  If it’s mesothelioma, a much more rare cancer, the prognostication might not be very accurate.  Furthermore, no two people are alike…our immune systems are different, are genetics are different, and out habits (such as eating, etc.) and thus we might not respond at all like the average patient.  So, a given prognosis is an estimate…but not final or finite.  It is a rough guideline.  Put it this way, if good statistical information is available…why not put some faith in it and listen to the doctor who gives you an estimate about your response?  If the statistical information is weak or based on one person’s advice or anecdotal evidence, why not questions the information and rely less on it?  Keep an open mind but don’t ignore previously recorded evidence.  A good prognosis will boost your confidence and have a positive impact on your thinking and a negative/poor prognosis will sap your confidence and perhaps may even have a negative impact on your health. 

This leads me to my final comment…statistics can be cold numbers that don’t reveal everything.  If the doctor gives you a poor prognostic for your survival with cancer X, you may wish to ask him what he uses for evidence.  How large is the sample size or the trial size that he is using?  He will know that information or can find it fairly quickly.  Do not give up just because you have been told your prognosis is poor.  The evidence behind that prognosis is poor and you may respond differently (the mean may not tell the whole story).  Ask more questions the more negative the news is…you owe it to yourself!!

Ok, I think I will stop now…please do ask me to clarify anything if you wish!  Thanks for reading.  Do look at cancer made simple for more information!!! 

Dr. C

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