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Making Strides Against Cancer

10-26-2018

Cancer is a devastating illness, with the power to wreak physical, emotional, and financial havoc on individuals and families. So when a report published earlier this year in the American Cancer Society’s A Cancer Journal for Clinicians suggests that we appear to be making progress against this dreaded disease, that’s something to celebrate.

According to the report, the death rate from cancer in the United States has declined steadily over the past two decades. As of 2015, the cancer death rate had fallen 26% from its peak in 1991, representing nearly 2.4 million deaths prevented during this timeframe.

The overall drop in cancer death rates is largely due to decreasing death rates for lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer death rates declined 45% from 1990 to 2015 among men, and 19% from 2002 to 2015 among women. From 2005 to 2014, the rates of new lung cancer cases dropped by 2.5% per year in men and 1.2% per year in women. These differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use, where women began smoking in large numbers many years later than men, and the higher incidence of lung cancer in non-smoking women vs. non-smoking men.

“This report illustrates that cancer control efforts can be effective, particularly with regard to smoking cessation,” said Frederick Regional Health System’s Medical Director of Oncology Services Dr. Mark Soberman. “A decline in cigarette smoking is the single most important factor in the decline in cancer death rates. Still, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths, and is still responsible for nearly 3 in 10 cancer deaths.”

Breast and Prostate Cancers

Death rates from breast cancer declined 39% from 1989 to 2015 among women. Among men, prostate cancer death rates declined 52% from 1993 to 2015. Reasons for this progress, including advancements in early detection, are still being studied.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer death rates declined 52% from 1970 to 2015 among men and women, most likely because of increased screening and improvements in treatment. Colonoscopy can detect early colon cancers and precancerous polyps. Because it takes some time for a precancerous polyp to become cancer, colonoscopy to detect and remove the polyp can prevent progression to colon cancer. As a result, screening reduces deaths from colorectal cancer both by allowing earlier diagnosis and by preventing a precancerous polyp’s progression to colon cancer.

Cancer in Children and Adolescents

Cancer is a leading cause of death among this age group, second only to accidents. In 2018, an estimated 10,590 children in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 14 will be diagnosed with cancer, and as many as 1,180 will die from the disease. Leukemia accounts for almost a third of all childhood cancers, followed by brain and other nervous system tumors.

While cancer incidence rates have increased in children and adolescents by 0.6% per year since 1975, death rates have declined continuously. The five-year relative survival rate for all cancer sites combined improved from 58% for children diagnosed during 1975 to 1977 to 83% for those diagnosed during 2007 to 2013.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the least common but most deadly skin cancer, accounting for just 1% of all cases but the vast majority of skin cancer death. Since 2013, there has been a significant rise in the 5-year survival rates for patients with melanoma. This is most likely due to increased education regarding skin safety, better prevention, earlier diagnosis, improved treatments, and more effective surgical techniques.

“It’s exciting to see these numbers coming down,” said Dr. Soberman. “I expect that death rates will continue to decline as we decrease tobacco use and encourage healthy lifestyles. Remember, though, that we still have 40 million adults in this country that smoke cigarettes, and about half of them will die of smoking-related diseases. In fact, we think that lifestyle choices cause about 10% of cancers, which makes them potentially avoidable. So what we’re seeing in the American Cancer Society’s report is progress, but there is still much work to do.”

Other highlights from the report:

• An estimated 1,735,350 cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, which equates to more than 4,700 new cancer diagnoses each day.

• The lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 39.7% for men and 37.6% for women, which is a little more than 1 in 3.

• The most common cancers to be diagnosed in men are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers, which account for 42% of all cases, with prostate cancer alone accounting for almost 1 in 5 new diagnoses.

• The most common cancers to be diagnosed in women are breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, which combined represent one-half of all cases. Breast cancer alone accounts for 30% of all new cancer diagnoses in women.

• Liver cancer incidence continues to increase rapidly in women but appears to be stabilizing in men. People infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are at greater risk for liver cancer. Because 80% of HCV-infected people are at least 55 years old, all individuals born between 1945 and 1965 should be tested for HCV.

Cancer Statistics 2018 can be viewed in its entirety at cacancerjournal.com. Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 is available at cancer.org/statistics.

The cancer care program at Frederick Regional Health System (FRHS) offers personalized care from expert providers in an optimum healing environment without the burden of traveling out of Frederick County. As a certified member of MD Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson, FRHS uses nationally recognized quality management and best practices that are essential to more effective cancer treatment. For more information on our cancer care program, visit fmh.org/cancercare, or call 240-566-4100.



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