The Good News on Cancer
Ready for some good news for a change? The American Cancer Society reported this week that cancer mortality declined by a record 2.4% in 2018 and 31% since the 1991 peak. Credit better and earlier diagnostics and therapies and a decline in smoking.
About 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and the risk increases with age. Cancer is the leading cause of death for middle-aged Americans and two to three times more likely to kill someone in their 50s or 60s than even Covid-19. The incidence of some cancers like breast, liver and kidney is also increasing partly for demographic and lifestyle reasons.
The report notes breast cancer is growing by 0.5% annually amid increasing body weights and a declining fertility rate. Obesity increases the risk for breast cancer while pregnancies and breast-feeding lower it. Liver cancer is also on the rise due to obesity, excess alcohol consumption, smoking and hepatitis.
Yet overall cancer death rates are falling at an accelerating pace, from about a 1% decline annually in the 1990s to 1.5% in the 2000s and early 2010s to 2.3% from 2016 to 2018. Regular screenings that catch cell mutations and tumors early have helped increase the five-year survival rates for prostate (98%), melanoma (93%), and breast (90%) cancers and made them mostly curable.
Lung cancer (21%) is usually caught later due to poor diagnostics, but mortality has still declined by about 5% annually from 2014 to 2018. One reason is fewer people are smoking, and improved treatments like epidermal growth-factor receptor tyrosine-kinase inhibitor are able to target non-small cell lung cancer mutations.