NIH Touts Steady Decline in Death Rates From Cancer

(CN) — As coronavirus infections in the U.S. continue to climb, Americans can take solace in a Thursday report by the National Institutes of Health that says the death rates of another well-known disease are in steady decline.

In its Annual Report to the Nation, the NIH said cancer-death rates for all cancer types have decreased by an average of 1.5% per year from 2001 to 2017. The report shows that the cancer-death rate among men is decreasing more rapidly by 1.8% per year, while among women it is decreasing by 1.4% per year.

“The largest declines in death rates were observed for melanoma of the skin (decreasing 6.1% per year among males and 6.3% among females) and lung (decreasing 4.8% per year among males and 3.7% among females),” according to the report, which appears in the journal Cancer.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to House lawmakers Tuesday.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Controls, attributed the numbers to the significant progress U.S. practitioners have made on cancer prevention, early detection and treatment. This last week, Redfield has been a daily presence on Capitol Hill as various congressional committees query experts about what can be done to contain the spread of COVID-19, a new strain of the coronavirus that just achieved pandemic status Wednesday from the World Health Organization.

While Thursday’s report on cancer offers promising numbers, William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer for American Cancer Society, noted that the fight is far from over.

“We can and must do more, particularly to ensure everyone in the United States has access to the resources that are all too often benefitting only the most fortunate,” Cance said in a statement.

Thursday’s report notes a decrease in cancer deaths across all major racial and ethnic groups, among both men and women, and among young adults, teens and children.

“The drops in mortality we’re seeing are real, sustained, and a strong indication of what we can do when we work to prevent and treat cancer,” Cance said.

The report notes that for teens and young adults, the rate of new cases of cancer increased an average of 0.9% per year from 2012 to 2016. It also says rates of new cancer cases for all cancers maintained the same among men, but increased slightly for women from 2012 to 2016.

Death rates among men decreased for 11 out of 19 of the most common cancers and increased for four — oral cavity and pharynx, soft tissue, brain and nervous system, and pancreas, according to the report. The other four rates remained stable.

In women, death rates decreased for 14 of the 20 most common cancers, researchers found. Notably, the three most common cancers in women — lung and bronchus, breast, and colorectal — were among these. Cancer-death rates increased in women, however, for cancers of the uterus, liver, brain and nervous system, soft tissue and pancreas. Rates for oral cavity and pharynx cancer did not move.

The report also, for the first time, provided rates and trends for the most common cancers among children under 15 years old: leukemia, brain and nervous system cancers, and lymphoma. All of these increased in incidence from 2012 to 2016.

As for breast cancer screening rates, the report says these increased slightly among Hispanic women between 2008 and 2015 but decreased for Asian women, women in rural areas, women who hold public health insurance, and women without insurance. Only the group of women with advanced educational degrees met the target breast cancer screening rate of 81.1%.

As the CDC’s Redfield says, it is clear that there is still a lot of progress to be made in terms of cancer screening, treatment and prevention.

“While we are encouraged that overall cancer death rates have decreased,” he said, “there is still much more we can do to prevent new cancers and support communities, families, and cancer survivors in this ongoing battle.”

The report was put together by the CDC along with several other organizations, including the National Cancer Institute division of the NIH, the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

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