US Cancer Mortality Rate Sees Record Decline

As the second leading cause of death, cancer has always been viewed as an indestructible, vicious disease that has inflicted physical, emotional, and financial strain on individuals, families, and communities worldwide. The war against cancer has been long-standing; however, recent statistics suggest that we could have an eventual victory. The American Cancer Society reports that from 2016 to 2017, the United States has seen the largest drop, 2.2% decrease, in the overall cases of cancer. Additionally, there has been a progressive 29% decline or approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer cases since 1991. What factors have contributed to the significant reduction in cancer cases?

 

The drop in cancer cases primarily has to do with the lower incidence of lung cancer and melanoma rates. Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer globally for both men and women. Hence, improvements in smoking rates and advancements in treatments for lung cancer have played a major role in improving overall cancer mortality rates. Of note, individuals who smoke may develop cancer years later. Dr. Otis Brawley, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University and former chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, adds, “We are still dealing with the effects of cigarette smoking from the 1960s and 70s in today’s population.” Cancer incidence rates will reflect this lag between exposure to smoking and diagnosis by progressively decreasing in the years to come. 

 

New imaging technologies, less invasive surgical procedures, and immunotherapy have helped tremendously with lung cancer treatments.  In the past, a thoracotomy, an open chest surgery, was necessary to remove a lung. This procedure involved one large incision of 6-8 inches in the chest between the ribs. Today, patients have the option of doing a minimally invasive procedure, which requires three 1-inch incisions. This operation comes with significantly less pain, fewer days in the hospital, less need for narcotic medication, and leaves less scar tissue. With regards to research done in immunotherapy, a study done by the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at NYU Langone Health was done to test the efficacy of chemotherapy and immunotherapy drug (Keytruda) combination treatments for advanced non-squamous non-small-lung cancer patients. Results indicate that the combination treatment had a significant improvement relative to the chemotherapy alone, and has already been approved as a first-line treatment for the disease. 

 

There have been similar breakthroughs for metastatic melanoma. In 2011, the FDA approved two new drugs for Melanoma, Ipilimumab and Vemurafenib. Ipilimumab helps shrink tumors and is used for immunotherapy treatments, and Vemurafenib is used for targeted therapy and fights cancer cells that have been metastasized.  Administration of the two drugs have since resulted in a 7% decline in the mortality rate for ages 20-64, and 5-6% decline for ages 65 and older. 

 

While there has been amazing research and advancements being made for early diagnosis and treatment of terminal cancers, there has been a rising issue of obesity-related cancers, especially in the United States. Obesity-related cancers include esophageal, pancreatic, colorectal, uterus, and breast cancer. Studies have found that obesity can alter hormonal development and induce chronic inflammation, a possible link to cancer. Modifying lifestyle choices and adopting healthy eating habits can reduce the risk of these cancers. Furthermore, educating preventative methods to the community at large can further help reduce obesity along with cancer incidence and mortality rates. 

 

 


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