The American Cancer Society has made an announcement that gives us a lot to celebrate: cancer rates have continued to drop across the United States, bringing us to the lowest cancer rates since 1991. The details of this announcement were published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The term cancer is actually used to describe hundreds of different diseases that all have one commonality: uncontrolled cell growth. Because each type is unique, there are different challenges associated with treatment. The goal of doctors is to attack the cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact, and chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are the most common and successful approaches.
Forms of cancer are the second leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. There are a number of reasons that cancer deaths are so prevalent, including the fact that the historical top killer, infectious disease, has gone down significantly thanks to vaccines, sanitation, and the development of antimicrobial medications. Simply put, humans are now living long enough to develop cancer.
Cancer rates peaked in the U.S. in 1991, and the statistics from this report show that instances of cancer have dropped 23 percent since then, with the rate falling steadily each year. This extrapolates out to 1.7 million lives that have been saved in those years.
There are many reasons to explain why cancer rates have dropped so significantly during this time period. In addition to advances in treatments, more people are getting tested for cancer, improved diagnostics have made it easier to detect disease earlier, and fewer people are smoking, reducing their risk of developing the disease.
It's a testament to what can be achieved when scientists are given the research funding to develop new treatments, the public learns how to take an active part in their health, and doctors effectively communicate with their patients. So many things came together beautifully to improve public health in this incredible way.
Despite the incredible progress that has been made to come to this announcement, there is still a lot of work to be done. Cancer is still the leading cause of death in 21 states (because of decreased rates of heart disease) and individuals over 40 face a higher risk.
"We're gratified to see cancer death rates continuing to drop. But the fact that cancer is nonetheless becoming the top cause of death in many populations is a strong reminder that the fight is not over," the American Cancer Society's Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley said in a news release.
The full report also contains information about which types of cancer are more prevalent in particular age groups and how the number of cancer cases and relative amount of deaths per type have changed.
There are many innovative treatments in the works that will hopefully decrease cancer risks even further, including permeating the blood-brain barrier, nanoparticles directly targeting tumor cells, and immunotherapy, to name only a few.
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