Part 1: By the numbers


It seems to me that we are kinda fascinated by numbers – particularly those dealing with probability, you know the odds that something will or will not occur.

We’re constantly bombarded with estimates such as the likelihood of who will win a particular sporting event or which person will prevail in a political contest.

Sometimes there is what might be called a “counter-intuitive” situation, that is, something that doesn’t appear “right” but turns out to be accurate after all. Let’s suppose 25 cards are dealt from a well-shuffled deck of ordinary playing cards. What do you suppose the odds are that five “I’ll play these” poker hands, that is, “pat” hands such as a straight. flush, full house, or four-of-a-kind can be assembled from these 25 cards? As weird as it seems the answer is almost 100 percent. Try it yourself as I have many, many times – and failed only once. Makes for an interesting “sucker” bet for the unwary.

So what do you think the probability is that half a dozen or so of my “first name” friends have all been diagnosed as having the same non-contagious but potentially fatal ailment? Well, according to the folks who track such things one in six men will get that nearly-ignored mass killer of men – prostate cancer – during their lifetimes. If my elementary arithmetic is correct that means if I know 36 guys on a first name basis the probability that six will be get prostate cancer is 100 percent – and sure enough Carl, Jon, Mike, Chuck, Gene, Jim, and I have all been diagnosed with the disease. And those are just the ones I know about – there may well be more.

This is not really so surprising because, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for prostate cancer in the United States for 2015 are: about 220,800 new cases; and, between 27,500 and 29,000 deaths from the disease.

Yep, prostate cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in American men – behind only lung cancer – with about 1 man in 38 dying of the disease.

OK, so why go into this subject now? It’s because September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. We don’t hear much about it for two reasons: first, the “official” proclamation is almost always issued the Friday before Labor Day so there is not much hoopla or publicity. No big TV specials featuring celebrities or even spot announcements. Nothing but silence on the subject.

The second reason is that September is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month along with Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day (typically the last week in September). Lotsa competition for attention among a number of worthy causes.

Unlike some other cancer awareness efforts such as the year-round “think pink” crusade, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is not primarily about fund-raising. Past fund-raising efforts have shown that folks are simply not interested in donating for research into prostate cancer with the primary reason being this male-only cancer occurs mainly in older men.

About six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it’s rare before age 40 with the average age at the time of diagnosis being about 66. Didja ever hear of a “Donate for Dad” car show or a softball game for the “Geezers” or other appeal for funds? They just don’t work.

Nope, the primary efforts during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month are centered on – now get this- increasing awareness about prostate cancer. You know, prostate cancer is one of those diseases no one talks about. It’s kinda been kept in the closet of ignorance and apathy as was breast cancer for many years and current efforts, including this one, are concentrating on penetrating this barrier.

By the way, of all the guys I know who have been diagnosed with this killer cancer, only one – Mike – has died from the disease. The rest are all still alive along with more than 2.9 million men in the US who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and yet are still alive today.

Next time I’ll share some possibly surprising numbers on that subject along with observations about how prostate cancer awareness can save a guy’s life. Yep, despite discouraging numbers about the overwhelming prevalence of this male-only killer, there really is great hope for survival. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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