(RxWiki News) A recent study shows just how fragile the relationship between reported news and truth can be. The recent drop in reported myeloid leukemias over the last decade may be just a classification error.
The number of blood cancers falling under the category of myeloid leukemias has been dropping since 2001.
But researchers found that a change in Medicare billing in that year might be responsible, rather than improved treatment or earlier detection.
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A team from the Moffitt Cancer Center went looking for the answer, finding that in 2001 the guidelines had changed to avoid reporting multiple cases in the same patient, which is a common development in this type of cancer.
No reporting system is perfect, but since research funding is developed through the statistics reported to the federal government, it is important that the numbers are as accurate as possible.
Researchers were floored by how much that simple policy change had altered the numbers.
In some cases, up to half of patients weren't reported as having the leukemia because they were already registered as with another type of cancer. The leukemia went completely unreported in the official government statistics.
The reporting was already complicated by the need to do a biopsy on the bone marrow where the cancerous cells are created, but the change in reporting made it even more difficult to report this type of cancer properly.
"The big surprise from our findings wasn't that myeloid leukemias were missed; it was the magnitude of uncaptured cases," said Christopher R. Cogle, MD, professor at the University of Florida.
"US cancer registries have the difficult challenge of capturing blood cancers and solid tumors. Our results beg for more resources to be committed to them," Dr. Cogle said. "Improved case capture will generate better data for policy makers, scientists, physicians and patients."
The study authors disclosed no financial conflict of interest.
Research was published March 21, 2012 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.