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Cancer death rates down 20%

Leigh Ann Laube • Feb 20, 2014 at 1:53 PM

The annual cancer statistics report from the American Cancer Society finds steady declines in cancer death rates for the past two decades add up to a 20 percent drop in the overall risk of dying from cancer over that time period. The report, “Cancer Statistics 2014,” finds progress has been most rapid for middle-aged black men, among whom death rates have declined by approximately 50 percent.

Despite this substantial progress, black men continue to have the highest cancer incidence and death rates among all ethnic groups in the United States — about double those of Asian Americans, who have the lowest rates. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, the death rate for cancer among African Americans is 27 percent higher among men and 11 percent higher among women.

“The progress we are seeing is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said Dr. John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “The halving of the risk of cancer death among middle-aged black men in just two decades is extraordinary, but it is immediately tempered by the knowledge that death rates are still higher among black men than white men for nearly every major cancer and for all cancers combined.”

Each year, the American Cancer Society estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the United States in the current year and compiles the most recent data on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival based on incidence data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The data are disseminated in two reports, “Cancer Statistics,” published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its companion article, “Cancer Facts & Figures.”

This year’s report estimates there will be 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 cancer deaths in the United States in 2014. Among men, prostate, lung and colon cancer will account for about half of all newly diagnosed cancers, with prostate cancer alone accounting for about one in four cases. Among women, the three most common cancers in 2014 will be breast, lung and colon, which together will account for half of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29 percent of all new cancers among women.

The estimated 585,720 deaths from cancer in 2014 correspond to about 1,600 deaths per day. Lung, colon, prostate and breast cancers continue to be the most common causes of cancer death, accounting for almost half of the total cancer deaths among men and women. Just more than one in four cancer deaths is due to lung cancer.

Of the new cancer cases estimated in 2014, nearly 41,000 of those will occur in Virginia residents, and 36,570 in Tennessee residents. Kentucky residents will experience 25,770 new cases of cancer in 2014.

Elise Allen, senior manager, Relay For Life, the Mid-South Division of the American Cancer Society Inc., says the American Cancer Society is ready to take on some hard challenges this year concerning colorectal and lung cancer.

In Tennessee this year, an estimated 3,030 residents will be diagnosed with colon and rectum cancer, while an estimated 5,980 Tennesseans will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer. In Virginia, 3,280 are estimated to be diagnosed with colon and rectum cancer; an estimated 5,580 will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer.

“Some areas we’re making some progress on, and we know what needs to be done now. We’re getting ready to take on some hard challenges. ... The colorectal, the lung, some of those are hard to catch. The lung and colon cancers tend to be more silent, and you don’t pick them up until later. Lung cancer has some new screening guidelines for people who have smoked long-term. They definitely need a low-dose CT scan. It’s not a scanning procedure for everyone, but those people who are the high risk, due to their smoking history,” she said.

“For colon, it’s proven that if they get the colonoscopies and catch the colon polyps early, that’s going make a big difference. We’re pushing for 80 percent screening rate. That we know saves lives. Those are two things right there that we know. The screening rate right now is about 50 percent of all those eligible,” she said.

The decline in cancer death rates can be attributed to better education and more screening opportunities.

“We know more can be done with lung cancer,” she said. “One is the prevention side of that — tobacco use. The other is screening. Screening guidelines for lung are new. For colon, we know what works — trying to encourage people to get that colonoscopy at the right age.”

Lung cancer rates in Tennessee have been on the radar for years. “Cancer in Tennessee (2003-2007),” released in 2010 by the Tennessee Department of Health, notes that lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Tennessee residents, as well as the most common cause of death from cancer in Tennessee. Female breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphomas were, respectively, the second, third, fourth, and fifth most commonly diagnosed cancers.

“I started nursing in 1980. Back then, when someone said they had stage 3 or stage 4 cancer, it was a very poor diagnosis. Now I constantly meet people that are five years or more out from advanced stage cancers,” Allen said. “The treatments are making a huge difference. But we can make even more of a difference by preventing or catching cancers early. That is why education of how to prevent cancer and when to get screened is very important. Many people do not know that obesity increases the rate of certain types of cancers. This issue is as important as not smoking. For our area to see more drops in cancer rates or mortality, we need people not only to make an effort to be tobacco-free, but to eat healthy and exercise.

“What is not out there a lot in the new is that obesity affects cancer rates. That is something that is proven now, and proven for a lot of types of cancer. Between the smoking and the obesity [in Tennessee], we’re high risk. Our theme this year is ‘Finish this Fight.’ If we can make a difference on colon and lungs and obesity, that’s where we’re going to see some significant changes and have a lot more survivors.”

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