Letter: Search for answers to the rising rate of cancer

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SSir: Your article "Every other Briton will be hit by cancer" was based on predictions of cancer incidence done by us. In the report we made it clear that the projections were based entirely on present trends, and took no account of future events which might change the incidence of cancer, and we also pointed out that predicting 20 years into the future is very uncertain.

We were therefore dismayed to read that these projections are being used to infer that "the war against the disease is being lost". We do not think the military analogies appropriate, but if we use them, then what we have done is to point out where the enemy would be if it continued to march at the present speed and direction. This is not an accurate prediction, but it does give a baseline from which to measure the effects of interventions, and we do provide a general idea of the size of future tasks.

Our projections are definitely not any comment on the result of past battles. The First World War analogy suggests that the projections somehow indicate that there have been huge and unnecessary sacrifices in the past for no gain. This is simply not true. Suffering would have been worse without the battle, and although the expense has been great there have been considerable gains.

We take exception to the implication that we are spreading gloom and doom, and think the public is mature enough to cope with predictions if they are discussed in a non-sensational way.

Dr T W DAVIES

Director, East Anglian Cancer Intelligence Unit

Institute of Public Health

Cambridge

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