Jan 8, 2019

As cancer mortality declines, gap between rich and poor emerges

Data: ACS' Cancer Statistics, 2019; Note: "Poor" counties are those in which the poverty rate is between 21.18% and 53.95%, while "rich" counties have poverty rates between 1.81% and 10.84%. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

American deaths from cancer dropped 27% overall from 1991 to 2016, and racial disparities are slowly narrowing, according to a major new report from the American Cancer Society.

Yes, but: This isn't the same for all Americans or the case for all cancers. The gap in the success rate is widening between socioeconomic groups, particularly in preventable cancers. And deaths from some cancers, mostly related to obesity, continue to rise.

The good news:

  • There were roughly 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths over that 25-year period than would have happened if the peak rates in 1991 had remained the same, Rebecca Siegel, report author and ACS' strategic director of surveillance information services, tells Axios.
  • The 4 major cancers — lung, breast, prostate and colorectal — all show declines. (Lung cancer deaths have decreased since 1991, but the Axios chart above shows an overall increase since 1970 due to the majority of women smokers picking up the habit later than men.)
  • The declines in the 4 cancers are mainly due to less smoking and advances in early detection and treatment, Siegel says.
  • The racial disparity is lessening. Black people had death rates 33% higher than white people in 1993, but that gap dropped to 14% in 2016.
  • Survival rates for most cancers have improved, except for lung and pancreatic cancers, which tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

The bad news:

  • Cancer remained the second leading cause of death in the U.S in 2016.
  • The socioeconomic gap in cancer mortality is growing, Siegel says. For example, poor women have twice as many deaths from cervical cancer than affluent women — and this is mostly preventable. Lung and liver cancer mortality also is more than 40% higher in poor men compared to affluent men.
"Poor people have less access to quality health care. Not only are they unable to get systematic screenings, but treatment options are oftentimes not the highest quality."
— Rebecca Siegel
  • Incidence rates have increased for melanoma and cancers of the liver, thyroid, uterine corpus and pancreas — and some of this has been linked to the obesity epidemic, Siegel adds.
  • Prostate cancer deaths, which had been dropping, have recently flattened.

Of note: The impacts of the Affordable Care Act on prevention and treatment and the HPV vaccine on cervical cancer rates are not yet included in these statistics. "Death from cervical cancers is very preventable. [And yet,] almost 10 women per week in their 20s and 30s died from cervical cancer in 2016," Siegel says.

The bottom line: If disadvantaged groups could have better access to regular screenings and better treatments, cancer deaths would continue to decline for all Americans, Siegel says. "Many of these deaths are unnecessary."

Go deeper

Google develops AI system that outperforms radiologists in detecting breast cancer

Photo: Lyu Liang/VCG via Getty Images

Google Health developed an artificial intelligence system that can identify cases of breast cancer from mammograms more accurately than radiologists according to an international study, the Financial Times reports.

Why it matters: It's the latest example of how AI could improve early detection of diseases and reduce both false positives and false negatives diagnoses.

Go deeperArrowJan 2, 2020

Florida cancer researchers resign over institute's China ties

Top executives and researchers from a Florida cancer center were forced out amid problems with a Chinese partnership that could have put American-funded research at risk, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Why it matters: The FBI and other federal agencies are on high alert for potential Chinese theft of American cancer research, and prominent researchers from other institutions have already been forced to step down. The CEO, a vice president and four researchers from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Florida stepped down after an internal investigation.

Go deeper: China's dominance in drug manufacturing is a national security issue

Keep ReadingArrowDec 20, 2019

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she is starting 2020 "cancer free"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told CNN she is starting the year "cancer free," after suffering from a series of health complications in recent years.

The big picture: The 86-year-old is the longest-serving member of the court's liberal wing and has been treated for cancer twice in just over a year, including a treatment that forced her to miss oral arguments for the first time in her career.

Go deeper: Ginsburg says historians will view today's political climate as "an aberration"