Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Meaning of Survival Statistics

     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?

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