Old 04-03-2012, 12:21 PM
CoBe CoBe is offline
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1
The Conqueror and cancer

The Straight Dope column Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set? states:
Of the 220 persons who worked on The Conqueror on location in Utah in 1955, 91 had contracted cancer as of the early 1980s and 46 died of it....Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada.
Yet the current rates for people to contract cancer and die of cancer are 41% and 21%, respectively (President's Cancer Panel 2010 report, second line of the executive summary). At those rates, one would expect, out of 220 people, 90 to contract cancer and 46 to die of it (on average). Rather than being in excess, the numbers seem to be very consistent with what would be expected. Furthermore, haven't cancer rates decreased in the last few decades due to the lower number of smoking-induced lung cancers, so the expected number of cancers and deaths would have been higher in the 50's?

So I am curious: who are the "experts" who claim only 30 people out of this group should have gotten cancer and why would this group be expected to have cancer rates much lower than the national average?
Old 04-11-2012, 01:51 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Wisconsin
Posts: 8,556
Bump, 'cause inquiring minds wanna know.
Old 04-11-2012, 06:33 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Join Date: Feb 1999
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The column in question is from 1984, and neither Cecil nor staff nor Ed keep records on resources for columns from that long ago. So, with apologies, CoBe, I don't think there is much chance of you getting an answer to your question about sources.

You are citing a 2010 study, so I wonder whether cancer rates were significantly lower in 1950-80 than currently? Medical improvements in various other diseases in the last 30 years could mean that more people die from cancer now (we have to die from something, and many people who would have died from heart disease now survive to die from something else, like cancer.)
Old 04-11-2012, 11:12 AM
conway conway is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: socal
Posts: 576
Methods for calculating "lifetime risk" have undergone a lot of changes since 1984. It's not appropriate to compare the lifetime risk calculated in 1984 (or whenever it was) with the risk calculated in 2010.


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