A recent study released by the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows that breakthrough treatments for lung cancer have resulted in a 26-year record low for cancer mortality overall. Cancer-related deaths have dropped at an average rate of 1.5 percent from 2008 to 2017 and between 2016–2017, cancer mortality rates dropped to 2.2 percent. This translates to nearly three million fewer American cancer-related deaths than would have occurred if mortality had remained stagnant.
ACS revealed that much of this success is due to declines specifically in lung cancer mortality. This is a promising development as lung cancer leads to more cancer-related deaths than colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Steady reductions in smoking and advancements in early-detection practices have created the perfect environment for dramatic drops in lung cancer rates. Technologies like video-assisted surgeries have enabled doctors to more clearly scan stages of tumor growth, providing patients with higher eligibility for operations and more targeted radiation treatments. Additionally, groundbreaking immunotherapies for both lung cancer and melanoma have acted as a catalyst for an expanding area of research, providing renewed hope to cancer patients with metastatic disease.
Despite the welcome decline in deaths associated with lung cancer, the death rates of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers have plateaued. Progress for the treatment of prostate cancers has been especially compromised due to growing skepticism from health officials regarding prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screenings. While the original intent of reducing PSA screenings was to prevent over-diagnosing and unnecessary treatments for potentially benign tumors, fewer treatable cancers are being detected as a result.
The National Consumers League (NCL) lauds this truly welcome progress in reducing cancer deaths. At the same time, we would like to echo ACS’s call for better testing, which will lead to accurate and better screening of cancers. It takes a village to see progress of this magnitude in public health. Doctors, researchers, advocacy groups, drug companies, and access to life-saving preventive care afforded by the Affordable Care Act can all take credit for this very good report. NCL recognizes the many factors that helped to reduce the incidence of a terrible disease that takes the lives of more than 600,000 people a year. Let’s keep the progress going into 2020 and beyond!