There's some big news that has been circulating about cancer in recent days. In fact, the report is so significant that virtually every major news organization on national television picked up on the story to broadcast the findings.
According to the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate in the United States fell 2.2% from 2016 to 2017— the largest single-year decline in cancer mortality ever reported.
If we look all the way back to 1991 the rate has dropped 29%, which translates to approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if the mortality rate had remained constant.
Of course, the important question to consider is how and why did this happen? Big advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, the most common cancer in the US, were a large part of the equation.
Fewer people are smoking these days and the technology to detect cancer at an early stage has improved. Since lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, any change in the lung cancer mortality rate has a large effect on the overall cancer death rate. Improvements in treating melanoma also played a part in the positive news.
However, in the world of cancer, the news is often a mixed bag or at the very least, confusing. Many of us with cancer in our lives experience the roller coaster effects of living with a life-threatening disease regularly, and though the news about the decline in overall cancer deaths is encouraging, the headlines are not quite as positive for those with colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.
As a man with breast cancer I am encouraged by the news of diminishing cancer deaths. But as an advocate who has been taught to carefully examine the findings of clinical trials; to actually read the endless paragraphs of small print that are packaged with the drugs I might need to take, and to ask questions about every phase of my cancer survival strategy, I suspect that there is more to the news than what I read in the headlines.
In 2020, according to the American Cancer Society, 2,620 new cases of invasive breast cancer among men will be diagnosed. Moreover, it is estimated that 520 men will die from the disease.
That's not the kind of news that usually gets picked up by the wire services, particularly since the number of men with breast cancer, relative to women, is small. But if you're one of the guys involved, even though its a small number, it's a significant number. So, the question becomes, "How do we change that?"
As simple as it may sound, the key to better numbers in male breast cancer diagnosis boils down to two simple things: early detection and public awareness. Let's hope the celebration for the big news about cancer can continue with decreasing numbers of lives lost while we move ahead.
Make no mistake, the news that was reported this week was worth cheering for, but when all of the numbers for all of the cancers, for men and women improve together as I believe they will one day, we'll have a heck-of-a-headline worth celebrating.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect feedback provided by the American Cancer Society.