When I first saw the headline “Childhood Cancer on the Rise,” it triggered my journalistic salivary glands. Sad news, sure -- but it could also settle an old debate, I thought.
Cancer rates have been edging up over the years, which gives some credence to the idea that our modern way of life -- replete with bad food and new chemicals -- is killing us. But the statisticians have largely answered that hypothesis: The reason more people are getting cancer is because we are living long enough to get cancer.
Which is why a rise in childhood cancer perked my interest. Pediatric cancer can’t be chalked up to longer lifespans. But my (OK, somewhat ghoulish) thrill faded as soon as I read the article under that provocative headline.
The steady increase in these cancers can be attributed to better diagnostics and better technologies. It is often difficult for parents to spot early warning signs in children as they appear to mimic other childhood illnesses.
Good news! It’s not that childhood cancer rates are rising; it’s that our ability to detect cancer is improving. It’s amazing how headlines and articles can go in different directions. In this case, though, neither was quite right.