When I was a kid, I remember how much the word “cancer” scared me. It was a mysterious, dreaded disease that seemed to have no survivors. In my young mind, a diagnosis of cancer was like a death sentence. But this is certainly not the case today. We all have family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who have fought cancer and won. Cancer survivors are brave champions who help spread the important message of cancer awareness, education and prevention.
Overall cancer rates in the United States are falling, but cancer is declining at different rates depending on factors such as race, gender and cancer location. A new report was published in the Journal of the Cancer Institute which included data from 1975 to 2014. Several major organizations contributed content to this document including the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute.
Let’s start with the good news. Cancer mortality decreased between 2010 and 2014 for 11 of the 16 most common cancers in men and for 13 of the most common types in women, including lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancers. Report lead author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal said, "Survival improved over time for almost all cancers at every stage of diagnosis." Jemal is vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society.
According to the report, these cancers had the highest survival rates: prostate (99.3 percent); thyroid (98.3 percent); melanoma (93.2 percent), and female breast (90.8 percent). The five-year survival rates gradually increased between the mid-1970s and 2012 for all but two types of cancer -- cervical and uterine. The largest increases in survival (25 percent or more) were for prostate and kidney cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia.
There were also some less-than-encouraging findings. Death rates increased in specific types of cancer. Cancers of the liver, pancreas and brain increased in men and cancers of the liver and uterus increased in women. The five-year survival rate for most types of cancers improved among blacks and whites, but racial disparities still remain and may have worsened for prostate cancer and female breast cancer.
Not surprisingly, survival rate remains low for most types of cancers that are diagnosed in later stages. The lowest survival rates for cancers diagnosed between 2006 and 2012 were: pancreas (8.5 percent survival five years after diagnosis); liver (18.1 percent); lung (18.7 percent); esophagus (20.5 percent); stomach (31.1 percent), and brain (35 percent).
Smoking has been linked to cancer for decades, and the recent report underscores the role that tobacco continues to play in low cancer survival rates. Now that 20 percent of Americans adults are significantly overweight, obesity has come to the forefront to join smoking as one of the leading risk factors for cancer (Source: Healthday).
Researchers purport that we need to make strides in identifying major risk factors in cancers of the colon, breast and prostate, and discover why uterine, female breast and pancreatic cancer are on the rise. The answer may lie in the genetics of a cancer cell and how the cells work together. As researchers learn more about the cancer cell itself, they will be able to develop more effective treatments.