Headlines about cancer are chilling – but we should marvel at medicine’s ability to defeat it

On the marvels of modern medicine, at the i

And yet even this statistic can be read in different ways, as can all mortality stats. The fact that “suicide is the leading cause of death among young men” is often cited as a condemnation of society, yet which cause of death wouldn’t be awful? A century ago it would have been pneumonia, tuberculosis or war that killed young men, and before that cholera, plague, hunger and homicide. “The Big C is a terrifying prospect, and news headlines warning of its increase are chilling, yet these new statistics actually reflect incredible human progress.” Likewise, three years ago there was the headline warning us that “half of people will get cancer”, which in theory sounds terrifying but only reflects the fact that cancer is largely an illness of age, and that our lifetime risk of death is, alas, 100 per cent. A century ago only two per cent of people died from cancer.

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