After a brief hiatus from blogging yesterday due to a physiology mid-term this morning, I have returned to the blog-o-sphere. I would like to describe the true meaning of survival statistics. This stems from a conversation I had with a pediatrician last winter.
I was at a social for women in science and was talking to a professor in pediatrics about my goal of becoming a pediatric oncologist. I was describing the need for better research and more effective cures, when she told be that most childhood cancers had a 95% survival rate and walked off.
Childhood cancer's average survival rate is actually around 80%. While some childhood cancers (as well as many adult cancers) have a survival rate in the 90's, most childhood cancers have low survival rates, with some being terminal at diagnosis (0% survival). The most common childhood cancer, ALL, has a survival rate of about 87%. Retinoblastoma has a 99% survival rate, although the treatment is removal of one or both eyes, leaving the child visually impaired or blind. AML, by contrast, has a survival rate of around 60%, same as rhabdomyosarcoma. At the bottom of the heap are rare and difficult to treat tumors such as DIPG (0%) and papillary meningioma.
Now, these survival rates are the 5-year survival rates. Children who die, say, 6 years after diagnosis are considered "survivors" in these statistics. Children who fall into this category include Ariel (14), Jack (10) and Per (10). This means that a 2 year old diagnosed with neuroblastoma (the average age of diagnosis) has only a 69% of reaching 7 years of age. Does this seem like a "good" survival rate?