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Published on May 21, 2018

Good news: Cancer deaths are downGood news: Cancer deaths are down

While cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, new numbers released by the American Cancer Society show that there are fewer people dying from the disease.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) released its annual report on cancer deaths recently stating that the number dropped 26 percent over the past 25 years, resulting in 2.4 million fewer deaths.

The overall decline is due to fewer deaths in the four major cancer sites:

  • Lung (45 percent decline from 1990-2015 among men and 19 percent 2002-2015 in women). The reason for the difference in percentages is that historically women began smoking many years later than men and were slower to quit.
  • Female breast (down 39 percent from 1989-2015) attributed to improvements in early detection.
  • Prostate (down 52 percent from 1993-2015). Prostate- specific antigen (PSA) is no longer recommended because of high rates of over-diagnosis (finding cancers that would never need to be treated). Fewer cases of prostate cancer are being detected.
  • Colorectal – cancer of the colon or rectum – (down 52 percent from 1970-2015) among men and women due to increased screening and improvements in treatment. However, the death rate among adults younger than 55 increased by 1 percent per year between 2006 and 2015.

Prevention, early diagnosis and improved treatment are the reasons for the improvement in cancer mortality rates, according to Falmouth Hospital surgeon, Peter Hopewood, MD, FACS chairman of the Cape Cod Healthcare Cancer Committee and chairman of the Cancer Liaison Physician Committee of the American College of Surgeons (ACOS) Cancer Commission.

The ACS also credits the decline in deaths to fewer people smoking, a major cause of lung cancer.

“This new report reiterates where cancer control efforts have worked, particularly the impact of tobacco control,” Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the ACS, was quoted as saying in a story posted on the ACS website. “A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates. Strikingly, though, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly three in ten cancer deaths.”

Healthy Lifestyles Are Key

While reduced smoking has helped bring down the number of people dying from lung cancer, the replacement tobacco products are raising the numbers of other cancers, cautioned Dr. Hopewood.

“By not smoking combustible tobacco products and inhaling the smoke, we do decrease the risk of lung cancer. Smokeless tobacco and snuff do not contribute to the risk of lung cancer but they do increase the risk of cancers in the head and neck, oropharyngeal, mouth, esophagus, pancreas, lip and tongue,” he said. “We have a lower number of people smoking tobacco products but we now have chew, snuff and other smokeless tobacco products to replace them. If you add them all together, we are almost back to where we started.

“Vaping has its own problems, like nicotine poisoning, nicotine addiction and premature labor, but that’s probably a story for another time.”

Other highlights of the ACS report include:

  • The most common cancers diagnosed in men are prostate, lung and colorectal, which continue to be the most common causes of cancer deaths.
  • The most common cancers diagnosed in women are lung, breast and colorectal, which continue to be the common causes of cancer deaths.
  • Liver cancer is rapidly increasing in women.

Dr. Hopewood likens prevention and screening to the aphorism, “it’s easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble.”

“You stay out of trouble by having healthy lifestyles,” he said. He suggests:

  • Minimizing excessive sun exposure
  • Staying away from tobacco products and alcohol
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining weight control
  • Taking a baby aspirin and Vitamin D supplement daily

“Make sure to get your screenings such as colonoscopy to check for colorectal cancer, mammograms for breast cancer, low-dose CT scans for lung cancer and pap smears to rule out cervical cancer,” said Dr. Hopewood.