Overall cases have dropped by 31%, with the United States reporting a record low 2.4% drop in all cancer-related deaths from 2017 to 2018.
Over the last 30 years, cancer-related deaths have been on a steady decline; despite remaining as one of the leading causes of death in the US. However, in early January 2021, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released data suggesting that deaths caused by cancer may be at an all-time low. In a recent publication, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the ACS reported that overall deaths caused by cancer had dropped from 152.6 per 100,000 people in 2017, to 149 per 100,000 in 2018.
Almost half of the overall decline in cancer-related deaths was attributed to lower numbers of lung cancer, the leading cancer-related death in the United States. In 2017, 145,849 people in the US alone died of lung cancer. That number dropped to 142,081 in 2018—a decrease of around 2.5%. These results are largely due to a major decrease in smoking, as well as advancements in the ability to both diagnose and treat cancers earlier.
“While recent advances in treatment for lung cancer and several other cancers are reason to celebrate, it is concerning to see the persistent racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for highly preventable cancers.”
While drops in some of the leading cancer-related deaths such as lung cancer are promising, the ACS data showed that more treatable and preventable cancers, such as cervical cancer, are still incredibly high. Death rates of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers have also increased over the last few years, all of which have a higher five-year survival rate than lung cancer.
In a press release following the release of their findings, ACS chief medical and scientific officer William G. Cance, M.D., stated, “While recent advances in treatment for lung cancer and several other cancers are reason to celebrate, it is concerning to see the persistent racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for highly preventable cancers.”
Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanic, Asian American, and Alaska Native persons, and survival rates are lower for black patients than for white patients for every cancer type except the pancreas. Racial and socioeconomic disparities such as these have declined since the control year of 1991—the black-to-white variance in all cancer deaths among black men and women combined has declined from a peak of 33% in 1993 to 13% in 2018—yet any disparity in the care or treatment of cancer in any racial or socioeconomic group is too much.
Researchers with the ACS also found that cervical cancer deaths had been on the rise. Cervical cancer was ranked second among causes of death in women aged 20-39, a statistic that could easily be lowered considering this type of cancer is highly preventable through screening and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations. In 2018, more than 4,000 women—11 a day—died of cervical cancer. Data showed that cervical cancer deaths among women in poor counties in the U.S. are twice that of women in affluent counties, and showed the same trend for other cancers such as lung and liver in men in similar demographics.
Drops in cancer-related deaths in any number are a promising notion of the hard work and advancements that are being made in the medical field. However, there is still much work that needs to be done in ensuring the health and wellbeing of every individual suffering from cancer. Cancer is still the second-highest ranked cause of death in the US, with nearly 600,000 deaths reported in 2019; and 608,570 expected in 2021 according to the same study.
William G. Cance, M.D, concluded the study’s findings by stating, “There is a continued need for increased investment in equitable cancer control interventions and clinical research to create more advanced treatment options to help accelerate progress in the fight against cancer.”
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