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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
March 12, 2001

The Median Isn't the Message
Karolen I. Paularena
In Memorium
July 18, 2001

Fifteen years ago, when my mom had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, we'd go in to see her onc. We'd ask what the odds were, how likely she was to respond to the therapy, the usual stuff.
What the onc said to us was essentially this:
If you put 100 patients in front of me, I can tell you ABOUT how many of them will live, and how many will not. I can tell you ABOUT how many will respond to a particular therapy. If you put 1000 patients in front of me, I can do even better.
But YOU will either respond to the therapy, or not. YOU will live, or die. And I don't know which it will be. It's not like flipping a coin. I can't average it out.
The statistics help me think about what the best treatment options might be, but they don't tell me the answer to the question -- will it work for you? The statistics tell me about how many patients will live in the US with your disease, they tell me NOTHING about you.

The take-home message was there isn't a 20% chance of a therapy working for my mom (or now, for me) just because 20% of the Phase III population responded. That therapy would either work, or it wouldn't. And we wouldn't know until it did or it didn't.

- Karolen

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