We all want a cure for cancer. This is evident in the ideas put forward for the NZ Science Challenges (http://www.thegreatnzscienceproject.co.nz/home). Will these ideas reflect the true need in New Zealand? Are all cancers equal or are some more equal than others? Does the public perception of what is most important reflect the true health risks? To answer this latter question would require a well controlled survey which I don’t have. What I can do is look at some data from the media.
First the numbers: The Table below gives the number of newly diagnosed registered and of deaths in New Zealand for various cancers for 2009 (I have only considered those with more than 200 deaths). The percentages are the percentage of all the cancers listed. The final column is the ratio of the numbers who died to the number of newly diagnosed. This is not a proper measure of the likelihood of dying of the disease once it is diagnosed, but probably gives an impression of which are the more and which are the less deadly of the cancers.
The graph plots the percentages for new Diagnoses and deaths against the percentage of stories on the Stuff.co.nz web site for each of the cancers (ie relative to the total number of stories (20,757) for all these cancers. I’m sorry to pick on Stuff, but it conveniently gave a count with a fast search engine. The area above the dashed line (blue) suggests under reporting in the media, the area below over reporting. Brain cancer is vastly over reported on this measure relative to other cancer death rates and new registrations. Breast cancer is also over reported, particularly in relation to other cancer death rates. Melanoma reporting reflects its deadliness, but not its new registrations. Colorectal/Bowel cancer and Lung cancer are relatively poorly discussed compared to their relative death rates.
There may well be many better ways to look at this kind of data – I would appreciate any suggestions. I hope to look at other diseases as well. However, as I research a disease that affects as many people as breast cancer each year, is just as deadly, and yet is reported on Stuff 1/50th as often, I am a little biased.