What kind of cancer is the most common cause of death among women?

If you said breast cancer, you are wrong. In Canada, breast cancer accounts for the deaths of about 5100 women (and 55 men) annually.

Lung cancer kills 9300.

So why does breast cancer get all the publicity and mounds of research funds compared with lung cancer?

The answer, says Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard, is two-fold.

First, breast cancer patients survive. Nine out of ten women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive five years later. The equivalent rate for lung cancer patients is four out of ten.

Picard doesn’t do it, but it’s instructive to actually tally the number of five-year survivors.

Ninety per cent of the newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients — that’s nine times the number of deaths or 45,900 — are available to march and lobby for research funds.

The 9300 lung cancer deaths represent 60 per cent of the new diagnoses, so according to Picard’s data, there were 9300/0.6 = 15,500 diagnoses total. Forty per cent of these women (6200) survive.

There are more than seven times as many breast cancer survivors as lung cancer survivors. That’s why you hear so much from them.

The second reason Picard cites for the lack of attention given to lung cancer is stigma. The leading (but not the only) cause of lung cancer is smoking, a risk factor within the control of the individual. But, as Picard points out, social pressures induce young women, especially those trying to remain slim, to take up smoking.

And, I add, from personal experience I know how difficult it is to quit smoking, especially if you are harassed by those who have never smoked, a group more sanctimonious than bicycle riders.

About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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