Cancer death rate on decline, report says

Cervical cancer cells

Cervical cancer cells. Image: fotosinteresantes/Flickr/CC BY

Medical science, in which we all have invested as a nation and as taxpayers, is seeing the fruit of its labors as the cancer death rate continues to decline in the United States. Others, however, dispute the conclusions of a new report.

Cancer death rate declining for two decades

The “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer” from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other groups has been released. It found a slight decline in the death rates for most types of cancer, a trend that has been continuing since the early 1990s. However, the number of incidents of cancers related to the human papillomavirus are on the increase.

The rate of cancer-related deaths fell among men and children over the last decade, according to the ACS report. Cancer death rates among women have remained basically steady.

Advancements and fewer smokers cited

Some experts credit medical advancements in detection and treatment, as well as a falling smoking rate — partially the result of public awareness anti-smoking pushes — for the continued decline.

Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society said, “The decrease in cancer mortality is driven largely by the decrease in cancer incidence, which is mostly because of the decrease in smoking. … There has been clear progress.

Continued challenges

Although the decline is “reason to cheer,” according to Dr. John R. Seffrin, the chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, it is also a call to keep fighting.

“The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections,” said Seffrin. “We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”

HPV cancers on the rise

However, there was an increase in incidents of cancer related to HPV. In the last ten years, the percentage of men and women diagnosed with oropharyngeal and anal cancer rose. The incidence rate of vulva cancer also increased among both black and white women.

The report reinforces the need for children to receive vaccinations for the human papillomavirus. “This year’s report correctly and usefully emphasizes the importance of HPV infection as a cause of the growing number of cancers … and the availability of vaccines against the major cancer-causing strains of HPV,” said Dr. Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute. “But … vaccines against HPV will have the expected payoffs only if vaccination rates for girls and boys improve markedly.”

Less than half of the nation’s girls between the ages of 13 and 17 received at least one of the three shots recommended to fend off HPV in 2010. Less than a third received all three injections.

Too little, too slow

Others, however, question the report’s findings. Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, says the progress is unimpressive, given the investment.

“We don’t look at this as progress,” she said. “This is such incremental improvement, when you look at the decades of investments, the cost of treatments, the number of researchers and journals, and then at the number of people who die … well, we are clearly doing something wrong.”


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