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The truth about statistics: It’s all how you spin them…

Home/Research, Tips/The truth about statistics: It’s all how you spin them…

The truth about statistics: It’s all how you spin them…

Yesterday I defined and attempted to explain the difference between “time to disease progression” and “median life expectancy.”

I illustrated how sometimes statistics don’t make sense.

The truth about statistics is it is all how you spin them.  I can take a bunch of  stats and make them look hopeful or discouraging.

Writers, researchers–and especially politicians–do this all of the time.

Let’s take a look at some median life expectancy numbers for multiple myeloma patients which look discouraging on the surface:

Multiple myeloma is an exceptional cancer in terms of its prognosis. A recent study from Statistics Canada showed that patients who survive their first five years with multiple myeloma have only a 60 percent chance of surviving an additional five years.

Researcher Larry F. Ellison and colleagues collected statistics on 26 cancer types, and calculated the relative survival rates (relative to a similar population without cancer) at the time of diagnosis, and at survival times up to five years. Multiple myeloma ranked 19 out of the 26 cancer types in survival rates at the time of diagnosis, but it fell to last place at the five year mark.

The last two paragraphs are from an article about the challenges of treating multiple myeloma from a site called EmpowHER:  Improving Health, Changing Lives.  It was written by Linda Fugate, PhD.

Here is a LINK to her article, in which Dr. Fugate interviews myeloma experts Dr. David Dingli and Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

I hear this question a lot:  “If I had to get cancer, isn’t multiple myeloma a good one to get?” 

Based on what we just read above, the definitive answer is “NO!”

True, most myeloma patients don’t die in the first three to six months after they are diagnosed.  But with a rank of 19 out of 22, it is hard to argue that multiple myeloma patients are somehow lucky, isn’t it?

I CAN!  What these stats don’t show are that there are more new therapies being developed today to help fight multiple myeloma than for most other forms of cancer.  I’m just guessing, but if myeloma isn’t at the top of the list, it’s close.

The truth is, multiple myeloma patients are outliving the stats.  It takes many years for these statistics to be adjusted upward.

If myeloma patients are living longer, why aren't life expectancy numbers going up faster?

Now you would think that it is impossible to put a good spin on this second bit of news:

Multiple myeloma ranked 19 out of the 26 cancer types in survival rates at the time of diagnosis, but it fell to last place at the five year mark… Patients who survive their first five years with multiple myeloma have only a 60 percent chance of surviving an additional five years.

OUCH!  It must be horrifying to read something like this for the first time.  But let me remind everyone that at the time I was diagnosed in 2007, less than 10% of multiple myeloma patients survived ten years.  Reading this didn’t phase me a bit!  I’m not exactly sure how to do the math, but if one half of all patients live five years, than a 60% survival rate for the remaining half is a lot higher than 10%.  We are making progress and living longer–whether the stats reflect that or not.

Patients–especially older ones–die from a variety of related or unrelated causes, putting downward pressure on the stats.  Keep in mind that the average newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patient is 68 years old.  So many patients have–or will develop–serious, unrelated health issues, it is hard to predict how long a younger, otherwise healthy patient will live.

The fact that 60% of five year survivors make it to the ten year mark is real progress!  And I will bet you next month’s Revlimid that these stats are already outdated and significantly lower than today’s numbers.

As someone that is quickly approaching the five year survival mark, I can live with a 60% chance of surviving at least another five years.

That’s more than twice as long as I was told I would live before I even understood that multiple myeloma was cancer!

All of this is beside the point.  There is an important moral to this story: Multiple myeloma survivors are not statistics! 

With so many promising anti-myeloma drugs in the developmental pipeline, there are many reasons to be optimistic.

Even in the face of my faltering therapies, I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.  How about you?  I say join me in helping to push future median life expectancy numbers way, way up!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat