Adequate Screening, Prevention, and Treatment Saved 1.7 Million Lives: ACS Report

A 23% drop in cancer deaths in the United States between 1991 and 2012-which translates into 1.7 million lives saved-was the result of successful cancer prevention, screening, and treatments, says a new report published by the American Cancer Society.

A 23% drop in cancer deaths in the United States between 1991 and 2012—which translates into 1.7 million lives saved—was the result of successful cancer prevention, screening, and treatments, according to a new report published by the American Cancer Society (ACS) in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The report claims a steady decline in cancer-associated mortality over the past decade: 1.8% in men and 1.4% in women, with a significant impact of improved outcomes observed in lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers (CRC). However, cancer incidence remained steady in women and declined by 3.1% in men during the period between 2009 and 2012, the report states. The drop in incidence rates in men has been attributed to the reduced PSA testing for prostate cancer diagnosis. The report projects 1,685,210 new cancer cases and 595,690 cancer deaths in the United States in 2016.

According to the report, significant improvements in outcomes have been witnessed with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and CRC. Breast cancer saw a 36% drop in cancer-related death since its peak in 1989, while both prostate and CRC have seen a 50% decline in death. Effective anti-tobacco and smoking campaigns have led to a 38% decline in lung cancer deaths in men between 1990 and 2012, and 13% in women between 2002 and 2012.

ACS chief medical officer Otis W. Brawley, MD, said, “We're gratified to see cancer death rates continuing to drop. But the fact that cancer is nonetheless becoming the top cause of death in many populations is a strong reminder that the fight is not over. Cancer is in fact a group of more than 100 diseases, some amenable to treatment; some stubbornly resistant. So while the average American's chances of dying from the disease are significantly lower now than they have been for previous generations, it continues to be all-too-often the reason for shortened lives, and too much pain and suffering.”

Some other salient findings included in the report are:

  1. Brain cancer overtook leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death in children 0 to 19 years of age
  2. Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer.
  3. While CRC incidence and death has seen a decline in older adults, an increase was observed in those under 50 years of age.
  4. Incidence rates for leukemia subtypes and for cancers of the tongue, tonsil, small intestine, liver, pancreas, kidney, renal pelvis, and thyroid increased between 2003 and 2012 for both men and women.
  5. Gender specific increase in incidence were melanoma; myeloma; and cancers of the breast, testis, and oropharynx in men. In women, incidence of cancers of the anus, vulva, and uterine corpus were on the rise during the study period.
  6. Leading cause of death in women: breast cancer (20 to 59 years old) and lung cancer (60 years and older). Leading cause of death in men: leukemia (20 to 39 years old) and lung cancer (40 years and older).

Reflecting on the findings of the report, Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said, “This 23% decline in cancer death rates is the result of decades of advancing our understanding and treatment of cancer. As a result of our nation's investment in cancer research, we have made tremendous progress in prevention, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and molecularly targeted treatments. Every cancer survivor is living proof of its progress. We commend the American Cancer Society for ensuring that this vital information is made available on an annual basis.”

“The report also estimates that nearly 1.7 million Americans will develop cancer and 595,690 will die of the disease this year. The cancer community cannot afford to let up on its progress. We must capitalize on opportunities to advance precision medicine, improve patient care through Big Data initiatives and support our nation's federal research infrastructure through robust funding. If we can meet those needs as a nation, we will continue to see the type of progress highlighted in this report.”