Friday, May 11, 2012

Playing the Melanoma Numbers

This weekend’s Powerball Lottery is worth an estimated $80 Million.  Did you buy your ticket yet?  Considering that the odds of selecting the right numbers are less than one in 175 million, I can certainly understand your reluctance to pay good money for a ticket.  But what about a few weeks ago when the MegaMillions was paying out over $800 Million?  I bet that tempted more of you than usual…I know it did me!

Other than higher rewards, what else might get you to pay one or two dollars for a ticket?  What about better odds?  Would you play numbers if the change of winning was one in one million?  That’s about the same as the odds of being killed by lightning.  What about one in a thousand?  A hundred?  Would you play the lottery with the odds of winning being one in fifty?  You’d still have roughly a 98% chance of losing, but I’d be willing to bet (no pun intended) that many of you would run to the local convenience store to play!

Let’s go back to the lightning odds.  When a lightning storm approaches, do you run for cover?  Why?  As I said, the odds of being killed by lightning are one in a million.  Then again, the odds of being merely struck by lightning are around one in half a million.  Still, statistically speaking, you wouldn’t get struck by lightning in a storm…right?  Hmmm…then again, being under a tree or holding a golf club supposedly increases your chance of being struck, doesn’t it?  But do you think that the odds are really all that high?  I’m sure they’re nowhere near as great as one in fifty.  Still, I’m guessing you run for cover despite the odds against being struck.

Did you know that one in fifty Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime?  Yep, those are the same “good” odds as I described above…the same odds that would have you buying lottery tickets or running for cover at the first sound of distant thunder.  One in fifty.  I bet you walked past at least fifty people today…and one of them (maybe you?) will be diagnosed with melanoma.  Still, like I said, there’s a 98% chance of never having this disease.  But what about being “affected?”

Let’s look at some more numbers.  Let’s say the average person has two parents.  Some parents have passed on and some folks have step-parents…so let’s stick with two on average.  Now let’s assume the national average of two kids per household…so that means the average person has one sibling.  Now let’s assume there’s at least one more important loved one…perhaps another sibling, perhaps a spouse, or just a really close friend.  Including the average person, we just created a group of five people.  Ten groups of five people add up to fifty people all together.  One of those fifty will have melanoma at some point.  I might not be a statistician, but I would think that means there’s a one in ten chance that the average person’s group will be affected by melanoma!  Sure, the odds still give you an 90% chance of not being affected, but I’m willing to bet that a one in ten chance of being somehow closely affected by melanoma makes you a bit uncomfortable.

Like the lightning scenario, you can run for cover!  You can wear sunscreen…you can wear protective clothing…you can stay in the shade at the peak of the day…and by all means, avoid the lightning rod known as the tanning salon.  You can lessen the odds of being affected by practicing safe sun…and spreading the word to your loved ones. 


  1. Good analogy. I'll have to use that one. I know many people who think they'll win the lottery, but will never get melanoma.

  2. This is a really interesting perspective, definitely eye opening. I think the difference is that when we run from lightning, or buy a lotto ticket, it is because the result is imminent. It is apart of our human nature, fight or flight in terms of lightning, our tendencies to gamble in terms of the lotto. On the other hand, melanoma is never imminent until it strikes. I think this lack of immediacy causes so many of us to disregard the odds, and not take the proper prevention measures (including me). Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work, I'll be following!