The Ups and Downs of Cancer Deaths

CURE, Spring 2013, Volume 12, Issue 1

While cancer deaths overall decreases slightly, some cancers are seeing an increase.

A: Cancer death rates continue to decline for both men and women in the U.S., maintaining a trend that began in the early 1990s. Several of the most common cancer types—including lung, breast, prostate and colorectal—have seen significant decreases in deaths during that time.

Unfortunately, we are seeing increases in deaths from several cancers, including pancreatic and liver in men and women, melanoma in men and uterine cancer in women. We are also seeing increases in the incidence of thyroid and kidney cancers in both men and women, among other types of cancer.

We have been fortunate that smoking has declined so dramatically, saving many lives from cancers that have been linked to tobacco use. Early detection, increased cancer awareness and better treatments have all contributed to reducing the burden of cancer.

But we haven’t been effective in reducing the obesity epidemic. If we don’t get this under control, we face the risk of erasing some of our progress. Getting proper exercise, eating better and adopting healthier lifestyles in general can help decrease cancer risk and cancer deaths going forward.

We still have far too many Americans who don’t have access to regular medical care and the benefits that brings, including improvements in cancer screening and timely access to appropriate cancer treatment. We must be more aware of how we use the tools and medications we already have so that we don’t find ourselves having to limit needed care because it is too expensive. We also need to pay attention to the quality of life of cancer survivors and their caregivers, which is another often-overlooked aspect of the cancer experience.

If we are to continue these gains, we need to examine the entire system of cancer care and the research that supports it. We can not only sustain the improvements we have seen, but we could even accelerate them.

—Len Lichtenfeld is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send questions to editor@curetoday.com.