A new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) is out, and it reveals some great news. Although cancer is still the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease, the cancer death rate has substantially decreased over the last 25 years.
The report used data straight from the National center for Health Statistics, which showed that about 2.6 million lives have been saved from cancer between 1991 and 2016. The death rate dropped 27% during that time.
Why the decrease in cancer mortality?
Well, for one, the U.S. has seen substantial reductions in the number of lung cancer diagnoses. This is probably because smoking rates have gone down.
Other reasons have to do with significant improvements in cancer screenings and treatments. This is especially true for the top four cancers: lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. Around 800,000 new diagnoses of these four cancers will occur this year. Any innovations in both the detection and treatment of these cancers will go a long way in further decreasing the death rate.
The racial gaps in cancer mortality are also getting smaller, the report says. Black Americans are still nearly 14% more likely to die from cancer than white Americans in 2016, but that shows a major decrease from 25 years ago, when the difference was 33%. It’s possible that lower smoking rates in young African Americans has to do with the narrowing gaps. Nevertheless, this gap still points to the fact that inequalities associated with both race and socioeconomic status create differences in cancer prevention, early detection, and quality of treatment.
So should we be less concerned with cancer?
No. Although this positive news shows how effective new treatments and screening methods have been, it doesn’t mean that we can ignore cancer altogether. Cancer death rates are decreasing, but diagnoses are not.
In fact, some cancer diagnoses are increasing. For instance, breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, is showing a substantial increase. Liver cancer is another type that is on the rise, especially in younger people, likely because one of the major risk factors is excessive alcohol use. We’re also seeing an increase in melanoma, thyroid, pancreatic, and uterine cancers.
It’s still important to be aware of important risk factors for and early symptoms of cancers. Screening and early detection are of utmost importance, and prevention is the best medicine. The data from this report gives much to celebrate, and it furthers the American effort to prevent cancer. It also suggests that an increase in access to healthcare, screenings, and healthy living resources would go a long way to keep these death rates on the decline.