Mortality rates down in latest cancer report

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Cancer survival rates are improving, according the American Cancer Society’s annual report. It found a 22 percent drop in cancer mortality in the past 20 years—a figure that equates to about 1.5 million cancer deaths avoided.

The decline represents a 1.8 percent decrease in cancer deaths for men and 1.4 percent decrease in women.

Mortality rates also declined in every state, but Southern states found the smallest declines and states in the Northeast experienced the largest declines.

In terms of mortality rates of specific cancers, the report found that breast cancer deaths are down by nearly one-third (35 percent) from peak rates and lung cancer deaths are declining by 36 percent in men and 11 percent in women.

The annual report compiles data on cancer incidence, mortality and survival based on findings by the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report estimates that around 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, not including carcinoma in situ of any cite except urinary bladder. It also does not include basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers.

The report estimates about 589,430 Americans will die from cancer in 2015—around 1,620 per day.

“Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly one of every four deaths,” the report said.

Five-year survival rates for all cancers diagnosed between 2004 and 2010 are up 68 percent from 49 percent in 1975-77 and the report notes the improvement reflects earlier diagnosis in certain cancers and improved treatments.

The report included a special section about breast carcinoma in situ, a cancer found in epithelial calls. An estimated 60,290 new cases of breast cancer in situ among women are expected to be diagnosed in 2015—about 20 percent of all breast cancers in women.

In studying cancer disparities, the report found that people with lower socioeconomic status have higher cancer death rates than those who have a higher socioeconomic status. Specifically, the report found that cancer mortality rates among black and non-Hispanic white men with 12 or less years of education are almost three times higher than college graduates for all cancers. For lung cancer, the discrepancy is four to five times higher.

“People with lower socioeconomic status have higher cancer incidence rates because they are more likely to engage in behaviors that increase cancer risk, such as using tobacco, not being physically active, and having an unhealthy diet,” the report stated.

In addition to higher rates of cancer, patients with lower socioeconomic status are less likely to survive the disease because cancer is often detected at a later stage in these patients and they are less likely to receive standard treatments.

"The continuing drops we're seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society in a press release. "Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79, and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years. The change may be inevitable, but we can still lessen cancer's deadly impact by making sure as many Americans as possible have access to the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat cancer."