US cancer death rate hits milestone

Leslie Hanson
January 11, 2019

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal "CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians".

The U.S. cancer death rate has hit a milestone: It's been falling for at least 25 years, according to a new report. In 2017, increases were seen in fatalities from seven of the 10 leading causes of death, according to recently released government data.

A cancer typically found in older adults has been killing younger people for reasons that has puzzled cancer epidemiologists in the past.

Looking forward, the researchers forecast around 1.8 million new cancer cases in 2019, which would be in line with the most recent numbers.

Cancer is the second-leading killer in the U.S., and it's poised to soon pass heart disease for that top slot. He says that smoking is one of the most identifiable causes of various cancers such as lung cancer.

The death rate for lung cancer dropped by 48% from 1990 to 2016 among men and by 23% from 2002 to 2016 among women, with declines accelerating among both men and women in recent years. There has also been an uptick in death rates from 2012 to 2016 for cancers of the liver, pancreas, uterine corpus, brain, nervous system, soft tissue, and sites within the oral cavity and pharynx associated with human papilloma virus. The report estimates 1.8 million new cancer cases and more than 600,000 deaths this year. However, this has narrowed the gap from 1993 when the rate was 33%.

In the early 1970s, colon cancer death rates in the poorest counties were 20 percent lower than those in affluent counties; now they're 35 percent higher. That's a decrease of 1.5% each year. Moreover, the study only looked at a subset of cases.

The study had some limitations, including that the projections should be interpreted with caution because they were based on data from three to four years ago. But now obesity accounts for a third of liver cancer deaths, and is more of a factor than hepatitis, Siegel said.

Ortner tells KLIN News that it's not all good news. "We must work to ensure every patient has access to cancer care that reflects their individual needs as well as the opportunity to participate in research and contribute to progress". Ortner also credits a decline in smoking.

Still, disparities may persist because "socioeconomic status plays a pivotal role in cancer incidence and survival", Theodorescu said. "Getting to the oncologist often takes longer and options may be more limited", he said.

Advances in diagnosis and prevention, as well as increased efforts to combat smoking, have led to a drop in mortality due to cancer in the United States.

Some of the counties with the highest poverty are in rural areas of south Georgia, and "this is something that we've become aware of here at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University", Curran said.

Of the most common types of cancer in the US, all the ones with increasing death rates are linked to obesity, including cancers of the thyroid, pancreas and uterus. "So it's a multi-factorial issue that we view as a real critical issue in the cancer world right now".

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