Thursday, 27 June 2013

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics

The joy at the recent headline-grabbing news about Angelina Jolie's elective preventative mastectomy is understandable if you believe that her risk went from 85% to 5%. In truth that was her RELATIVE risk. Her ABSOLUTE risk of dying of breast cancer due to the BRCA1 gene was an increase of 1.7%. 

Despite passing my statistics 'O' level, I was never very good at maths. Sitting in the oncologists office, how I wished I'd paid more attention. None of the figures thrown at me made any sense. Of 100 women in my age bracket (40 - 50 years old) with the same sized tumour (2 - 5cms) and the same amount of positive lymph nodes (1 - 10) only 65% would survive 5 years without any allopathic treatment. What did that mean? I had no idea. The second opinion doctor was straighter with me. When I asked him did I have a 65 percent chance of surviving until I was 45, his answer was no. I had a 50 % chance. I would live, or I would die. 

My Dad tried to explain relative risk vs absolute risk. I was none the wiser, but I was told that my chance of surviving 5 years decreased from between 90% - 80% to 75% - 65% if I chose to reject chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen. (The figures changed depending on which consultant I saw, and how optimistic they were with my 'data') In total, the 3 biggest guns that the NHS had to offer gave me (at best) an increased survival rate of 15 percent. Chemotherapy alone offered me just 5 percent. FIVE PERCENT? And that was without taking into consideration the potential carcinogenic side-effects.

I asked my oncologist, who are these women who have chosen to do 'nothing'? What is 'nothing'? Are they smokers? Overweight? He didn't have answers. And later I learned that statistics are actually stacked drug against drug, not necessarily against a 'clean' control group. I have certainly never been asked to be a part of any survey, and even if I were, I would argue vehemently that I have done 'nothing' to prevent a recurrence. 

Regardless of any numbers, none of the allopathic options offered to me resonated.

In my opinion, it's vital to understand that we're not a collection of body parts. We cannot chop bits off hoping to evade a systemic disease borne not of inheritance, but of toxicity and deficiency. Epigenetics tells us that it is the environment within the body which switches genes on or off. How empowering to know that we have some control, that by creating an alkaline, oxygen-rich environment, disease is far less likely to happen. Japanese women who carry the BRCA1 gene have a 65% less chance of a cancer diagnosis than their American sisters with the same inherited faulty gene, unless they move to America, then the rates level out very quickly. What does this tell us? That cancer is a disease of malnutrition and lifestyle.