Jul 8, 2021 - Health

Cancer mortality in U.S. declines overall as some disease persists

Reproduced from a National Cancer Institute report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Death rates for lung cancer and melanoma continued to drop for men and women in the U.S. between 2014 and 2018, according to an annual report with the National Cancer Institute.

Yes, but: For several other major cancers, however, like colorectal, breast and prostate, death rates increased — or saw previous improvements stall.

State of play: American deaths from cancer — the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. — have been on the decline for years. But it's not the same across the board, particularly when it comes to cancers related to obesity.

  • Death rates among women increased for five of the most common cancers such as uterus, liver, brain and pancreas. Death rates decreased for 14 cancers.
  • For men, death rates for five cancers including bones and joints, oral cavity and pharynx, brain and pancreas increased. Death rates decreased in men for 11 cancers.

By the numbers: Cancer death rates declined overall in every racial and ethnic group since 2001, but drops have accelerated in the last five years.

  • Still, overall cancer incidence is increasing in women, children and young adults.

Be smart: The analysis observes cancer rates and deaths up to 2018, but since last year, doctors have expressed concern the pandemic will lead to an uptick in cancer incidence and deaths and scale back the progress made between different race and ethnicities with the disease.

  • The National Cancer Institute estimated there will likely be 10,000 additional deaths over the next decade due to the drop in screening and treatments of breast and colorectal cancer during the pandemic.

What's happening: Several associations and government agencies have altered screening and prevention guidance in recent months to address increasing cancer incidence.

  • Screenings for colon cancer are now recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force at 45 instead of at 50 as of May, due to the disease increasingly occurring among adults younger than 50.
  • The group also recommended in March annual lung cancer screenings be conducted on those as young as 50 and to those with shorter smoking histories than previously thought necessary.

What they're saying: “The continued decline in cancer death rates should be gratifying to the cancer research community, as evidence that scientific advances over several decades are making a real difference in outcomes at the population level,” Ned Sharpless, director of the NCI, said in a statement.

  • “I believe we could achieve even further improvements if we address obesity, which has the potential to overtake tobacco use to become the leading modifiable factor associated with cancer," he added.
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