Cancer mortality rates continue to drop, according to national report

The latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer finds that, with the exception of two forms of cancer, 5-year survival rates for almost all cancer types have increased significantly.

Since 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) - both parts of the Department of Health and Human Services - together with the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR) have collaborated to create the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

The document offers information on the incidence and mortality trends in the United States. The previous report - published in March 2016 - gathered data between 1975 and 2012, and it revealed an increase in the incidence of liver cancer.

This latest report - published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute - examines clinical data collected between 1975 and 2014, and it shows a significant decrease in the number of deaths caused by nearly all types of cancer, with the exception of two.

The study - led by Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., of the American Cancer Society - also looks at survival rates as a way of evaluating the progress made in the fight against cancer. As Jemal explains, "while trends in death rates are the most commonly used measure to assess progress against cancer, survival trends are also an important measure to evaluate progress in improvement of cancer outcomes."

Survival rates increase for nearly all types of cancer

Jemal and colleagues compared the 5-year survival rates for cancers diagnosed from 1975 to 1977 with those diagnosed between 2006 and 2012.

Overall, the findings revealed a marked increase in 5-year survival rates during the latter period for almost all types of cancer. The only two exceptions were cervical and uterine cancer.

The largest increase in survival rates was noted in leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma (or cancer of the bone marrow), and prostate and kidney cancers. The numbers of patients who survived these forms of cancer increased by 25 percent or more.

Other cancers with the greatest survival rate were thyroid cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer in women.

By contrast, the cancers diagnosed between 2006 and 2012 that had the lowest survival rates were cancer of the pancreas, liver, stomach, esophagus, and brain.

"We last included a special section on cancer survival in 2004, and as we found then, survival improved over time for almost all cancers at every stage of diagnosis," says the lead author of the study. "But survival remains very low for some types of cancer and for most types of cancers diagnosed at an advanced stage."

More preventive measures needed, authors say

Although the reported trends can be seen as encouraging, the authors underscore the need for more preventive measures and resources for identifying risk factors that could help to stave off cancer.

Dr. Lisa C. Richardson, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, further details the findings, and she calls for a collaborative and focused effort to stop preventable cancers:

"This report found that tobacco-related cancers have low survival rates, which underscores the importance of continuing to do what we know works to significantly reduce tobacco use.

With obesity as a risk factor for cancer, we need to continue to support communities and families in prevention approaches that can help reverse the nation's obesity epidemic. We need to come together to create interventions aimed at increasing the uptake of recommended, effective cancer screening tests, and access to timely cancer care."

The executive director of NAACCR, Betsy A. Kohler, also weighs in on the findings:

"The continued drops in overall cancer death rates in the United States are welcome news, reflecting improvements in prevention, early detection, and treatment," she says. "But this report also shows us that progress has been limited for several cancers, which should compel us to renew our commitment to efforts to discover new strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment, and to apply proven interventions broadly and equitably."

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