Cancer Rates Overall Have Been Dropping But It’s Not All Good News, Report Shows

The State of Cancer in the United States

A recent report posted by the American Cancer Society has indicated that cancer rates in the United States have been continuously falling over the past 25 years.

Until 1991, cancer related deaths were increasing. But a decline in smoking finally led to a decrease of 27% between the years of 1991 and 2016. Lung cancer death rates specifically dropped by a whopping 50% among men.

In addition to a reduction in smoking tobacco, advancements in healthcare have helped lead to this decline. Researchers have discovered how to detect many kinds of cancer at earlier stages and the range of treatment options has also greatly expanded.

Unfortunately, despite progress, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer in this country and approximately 600,000 lose their lives. Worldwide, there are 14 million living with a cancer diagnosis, and 22,000 people die each year as a result. That equates to 9 million deaths each year, and unfortunately that number is expected to increase to 13 million by the year 2030. Likewise, the number of cancer patients worldwide is expected to increase from 14 million to 21 million by the same year.

Why it’s not expected to keep falling

The biggest reason that cancer rates are expected to increase, stopping the 25 years of steady decline, is due to obesity-related cancer diagnoses. As overall rates have been decreasing in recent years, obesity-related cancer deaths have been increasing. Additionally, prostate cancer rates, which had been decreasing, leveled out between the years of 2013 and 2016. It is now the second leading cause of death related to cancer for men.

Obesity related cancers include pancreatic, uterine, thyroid, and liver cancer diagnoses. Liver cancer death rates increased in the 1970s, but those numbers were due to a spike in hepatitis C. Now, with effective treatments for hepatitis, obesity has been linked to many more liver cancer diagnoses.

This all said, we cannot discuss the biggest issues we are currently facing in terms of cancer research, without discussing our most notable recent progress.

Notable Cancer Research

The rise of immuno-oncology as a field can account for much of our progress in cancer research over the last couple of years. In essence, immuno-oncology works to help the patient’s own immune system fight their cancer. Research in this domain has truly revolutionized therapies for many types of cancers.

Additionally, the development of new drugs which focus specifically on treating one type of patient population has helped to improve patient outcomes. Below are some of the most noteworthy FDA approvals for cancer from 2018.

Noteworthy Approvals

June 2018: Braftovi and Mektovi- Metastatic Melanoma

September 2018: Libtayo- Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma

October 2018: Talzenna- Metastatic Breast Cancer

November 2018: Daurismo- Acute Myeloid Leukemia

February 2018: Lumoxiti- Refractory Hairy Cell Leukemia

Between November of 2016 and October of 2017, a total of 18 new therapies were approved by the FDA. Additionally 13 previously approved therapies were granted approval for an additional use.

Perhaps most notable of all of the cancer research completed in the last few years was the first gene therapy approval which came in 2017.

Disparities in Cancer Care

Unfortunately, despite advances in cancer research, certain populations are still facing disparities related to gender, geography, race, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. These individuals often face worse outcomes when it comes to their cancer diagnoses.

Thankfully, the racial gap in cancer related deaths has been slowly decreasing. However, the gap regarding socioeconomic status has become larger in recent years.

“Residents of the poorest counties experience an increasingly disproportionate burden of the most preventable cancer.”

Researchers suggest that regionally focused cancer control efforts could improve this situation. We need to work to improve access for not only cancer screening programs, but basic health care. Simply spreading already confirmed knowledge to groups of people who haven’t been informed (such as the importance of preventing cancer-causing behaviors) could significantly improve outcomes.

Additionally, we need to ensure that minorities are better represented in clinical trials. If a trial is not representative of the population, it will not provide us the information we need to make an impact. For instance, around 60% of people with cancer in the United States are 65 years old and up. However, the older population is very underrepresented in clinical trials.

We need to improve under-representation, work on developing stronger public education campaigns, and continue making strides in the lab, in order to improve outcomes for everyone living with cancer.

We’ve made undeniable progress in recent years– the numbers show that. But understanding exactly where we are falling behind is essential for moving forward.

You can read more about this issue and the data published by the American Cancer Society here.


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