A Sign of Progress In The Fight Against Cancer Rates

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. Fortunately, new research from the American Cancer Society suggests that cancer mortality rates are declining. In other words, cancer is gradually claiming fewer lives in the United States. From 1991 to 2017, cancer mortality declined by 29%, according to an American Cancer Society study published this month in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. From 2008 to 2017, cancer mortality declined by a rate of approximately 1.5% each year. Overall, the country suffered almost 3 million fewer cases of life lost to cancer than would have occurred had the death rate not declined.

Additionally, the rate of cancer mortality decreased by 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest such decline ever to occur in a single year. The researchers attribute this trend to reduced mortality from lung cancer and the skin cancer melanoma. Since 1990, the death rate attributable to lung cancer has fallen by 51% for men. Since 2002, the lung cancer death rate has fallen by 26% for women. From 2013 to 2017, the lung cancer death rate fell annually by 5%. According to the study, better treatment options for lung cancer and the decreasing prevalence of smoking cigarettes are responsible for these changes. Nevertheless, lung cancer remains the deadliest form of cancer in the United States. The disease inflicts more casualties every year than breast cancer, prostrate cancer, and colorectal cancer all together.

Melanoma actually surpassed lung cancer as the fastest-declining cause of cancer mortality. Since 2013, the rate of life lost to melanoma has fallen consistently by 5-6% each year as immunotherapy and other advanced treatment methods increase the likelihood of survival for melanoma patients. The one-year survival rate for melanoma was 55% in 2015, a substantial improvement from 2010 when the survival rate was only 42%. Across all demographics, the survival rate for cancer in general was 67% in 2015.

More Findings In The Research

“The exciting gains in reducing mortality for melanoma and lung cancer are tempered by slowing progress for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, which are amenable to early detection,” said lead researcher Rebecca Siegel. The study reports a 53% decline in colorectal cancer mortality since 1980, a 40% decline in breast cancer mortality since 1989, and a 52% decline in  prostrate cancer mortality since 1993.

Unfortunately, the incidence of breast cancer has risen moderately since 2004 at an approximate annual rate of 0.4%. The incidence of some other forms of cancer are also continuing to increase. For example, cases of liver cancer are rising most rapidly, with an annual increase of 2-3% from 2007 to 2016. This phenomenon may be a result of rising rates of alcohol consumption worldwide. Other cancers which continue to increase in incidence are kidney cancer, oral cancer, and pancreas cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 600,000 deaths caused by cancer and about 1,800,000 new cases of the disease in 2020.

The Relationship Between Smoking And Lung Cancer

In 1964, the Surgeon-General reported that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and recommended that the government take “appropriate remedial action.” The following year, the government began to require cigarette packages to bear safety warnings and imposed limits on tobacco advertising. Since then, the percentage of Americans who smoke cigarettes has declined from 42% in 1964 to about 15% today. Even still, over 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes and about 438,000 of them die prematurely every year as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are two ways in which smoking increases the risk of cancer. Firstly, the toxins in cigarette smoke damage the DNA in cells. Cells depends on healthy DNA to control growth. Otherwise, cells are likely to grow uncontrollably into tumors. The cells in the lungs and throat are most vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of cigarettes because they are most exposed to cigarette smoke. Secondly, smoking weakens the body’s immune body and compromises its ability to attack cancer cells.

Luckily, it is possible to quit smoking and drastically reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. In fact, the risk of developing cancer as a result of smoking falls by 50% after just five years of giving up cigarettes. As with all forms of cancer, early detection is crucial for survival. The most common early warning signs of lung cancer are chronic coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and hoarseness. If you suspect lung cancer, it is important to schedule a screening right away.

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Nathan Yerby

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  • Nathan Yerby is a writer and researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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