On Cancer Policy, the Washington Post Rates Ignorance Over Facts

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Sunday, 13 February 2011 08:49

The Washington Post's Outlook section told readers today that, "On cancer, the EPA rates fears over facts" [the headline is slightly different in the online version]. The point of the piece is that people are 10 percent more likely to die from heart disease than cancer, yet they fear cancer more. As a result of this seemingly irrational fear, the EPA is placing a greater emphasis on combating cancer, the less dangerous killer, than heart disease.

Let's trot over to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to see what they say about this issue. They confirm the basic story, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. But we find something very interesting when we look at the causes of death by age.

For men, cancer is a more frequent cause of death up to age 25, heart disease is somewhat more frequent cause of death for men between the ages of 25-54. Cancer is then the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 55-74, with heart disease then becoming the most important cause of death for the oldest men.

For women, the age issue is more unambiguous. Up to age 65, cancer is by far the more frequent cause of death, killing more than twice as many women as heart disease. Heart disease only passes cancer as a cause of death among women once they reach the age of 75.

So, it doesn't look like the EPA has to rate fear over facts in order to focus more of its attention on cancer than heart disease, it just has to look at the data.