In response to my comments on the Death Statistics study, Research Scientist and Associate Director of Biostatistics, Donn C. Young, Ph.D., of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center offered this reply:
Dear Ms. Bell,
Thank you for your thoughtful note about our recently published study.
The questions you raise are important, but difficult to answer within
the framework of scientific investigation. Since we were working from
information recorded on death certificates, there was no way of knowing
such things as the individual's intent or manner in which they
approached their disease. And position and credibility have nothing to
do with it - it's a matter of looking at the data.
But I disagree that our study removes hope - far from it. We know that
many cancer patients live well beyond what might be 'expected'. But
those of us who specialize in statistics know that random variation
results in a few individuals who achieve often remarkable survivals. For
example, Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, survived 20
years after a diagnosis of abdominal mesothelioma - a remarkably
agressive and fatal form of cancer. He understood the nature of
statistical distributions and understood that a few would have a lengthy
survival - and found solace in the hope that that would include himself
- and it did.
And while optimism and a positive coping style may greatly enhance a
patient's quality of life, there seems little evidence that they have
any influence on overall survival in people with cancer. You may wish to
read the two articles below from the journals Cancer and British Medical
Schofield P, Ball D, et al. Optimism and survival in lung carcinoma
patients. Cancer 2004;100:1276-82.
Petticrew M, Bell R, Hunter D. Influence of psychological coping on
survival and recurrence in people with cancer: systematic review. BMJ
We by no means remove hope, but wish only to emphasize that if you have
a family member, friend, or loved one dying of cancer or other chronic
disease that we need to give them an early gift of our love, our
friendship, our attention, and our time. Nothing is more important. I
hope this message is clear.