There’s some research just about to be published in The Lancet which compares cancer survival in the UK compared to four similar economies – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It covers the years 1995-2007.

It looks at four cancers – Colorectal, Lung, Breast and Ovarian cancers. The key message we’re invited to take away is that survival rates are lower in the UK than the others but the situation is improving. In fact, the report sponsors say, the gap on Breast cancer is all-but-closed.

Actually, when you plot the stats on a graph like this one, it’s hard to see any evidence that the differences are statistically significant. On the other hand, being statistically different may be all we need to know. If someone gave you a 60% chance of success rather than 54%, you’d take it.

Certainly, getting the messages about self-diagnosis and early diagnosis across can’t be bad.

I read a blog recently that made the argument that for gender-specific cancers such as Breast and Prostrate it  is ‘easier’ to raise awareness, compared to gender-neutral cancers such as Lung and Colorectal.

One of the ‘problems’ in the cancer charity world is that each cancer has its own advocates, and they promote ‘their cancer’ over the others for our attention. So it’s slightly more objective to just look at the raw numbers – what is the number of people diagnosed with cancer X each year, and how many die?

Here are the numbers for the UK:

The fact that “Prostrate cancer is #1 in men” or “Breast cancer is #1 in women” isn’t as relevant as the fact that Lung cancer kills 90% of all diagnosed. Especially when you combine that with the fact that it is the #2 most common type.

It should follow that we as people take on Lung cancer as our collective #1 priority. Do we? It’s pretty clear that we’ve pushed the anti-smoking message in ads, etc. But one breakdown of the stats on research spending from the UK National Cancer Research Institute shows only 3% is spent on lung cancer research, compared to e.g. 20% on breast cancer. This disparity has been going on for a decade now, so it isn’t a one-off.

You could argue that we’ve sort of “given up” on Lung cancer. Those smokers have a choice, right, and it’s a matter of free will in the end. Why spend valuable money on it now? Better to have us feel our roundy bits looking for lumps instead (I’m thinking of men there too).

But that logic falls down when you consider some of the other bleak prognosis cancers such as Pancreatic and Brain. Sufferers of those have done no ‘self-harm’ and yet awareness is low and research funding follows awareness i.e. it is low too.

It’s a curious feature of our socio-medical anthropology.

Robyn – Don’t Fuckin’ Tell Me What To Do

PS – Happy New Year!