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Fewer Cancer Deaths in the US – Are Lifestyle Changes Working?

by Dr. Sharon Orrange on February 10, 2016 at 2:07 pm

In 2016, 1,685,210 new cases of cancer are projected to occur in the United States. Hard to believe, but that actually means it’s getting better. Something’s working. Whether it’s more appropriate screening or the effects of diet- and exercise-shaming finally soaking in, death rates from cancer have declined and are continuing to go down. Here is what we learned from the American Cancer Society (ACS) this month.

  • The decline in cancer death rates in the US over the past 20 years has resulted in an overall drop of 23%, with more than 1.7 million cancer deaths averted.
  • There are three principal reasons for the decline: reduction in cigarette smoking, improvements in treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation), and the success of age-appropriate screening.
  • Despite this, cancer is still the leading cause of death in 21 states . . . partially because we’ve gotten better at treating heart disease, the previous #1.
  • It’s not all good. Incidence rates have increased for liver, pancreas, thyroid, tongue, tonsil, kidney and some leukemia subtypes. Liver and pancreas cancer are two of the most deadly cancers.
  • Good news for the colon. In 2012, 55% of people between the age of 50 and 75 had a screening colonoscopy compared to only 19% in 2000. Colon cancer rates have declined 3% per year because of this and changes in risk factors (smoking, diet).
  • Bad news for the uterus. One of the surprises in the data released was an increase in uterine lining cancer, called endometrial cancer. Deaths from uterine cancer are now just short of deaths from ovarian cancer in the US. Why? Excess weight increases endometrial cancer risk by 50% for every 5 body mass index (BMI) units. More obesity = more endometrial cancer.
  • What about the prostate? As you know, current consensus is to not routinely screen all men with the prostate cancer blood test, the PSA. So half of the drop in cancer cases is related to declines in prostate cancer diagnoses as PSA testing decreases.
  • Which is the most rapidly increasing cancer? Thyroid. Thyroid cancer rates have increased in both men and women 5% each year—but that’s partially due to overdiagnosis due to increased use of advanced imaging techniques.
  • Tobacco is still a problem. Despite some of the progress seen, 80% of deaths from lung cancer and half of deaths from esophageal, oral and bladder cancer are from cigarette smoking.
  • What are the chances you’ll have cancer? With these new statistics, we know the lifetime probability of developing invasive cancer for Americans is 42% for men and 38% for women.

Dr O.

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