By John Salak –
Good news on the cancer front is always welcome and U.S. and Canadian officials delivered a healthy dose recently by announcing downward trends in related deaths.
In an annual report on cancer sponsored by a range of organizations, officials reported that from 2015 to 2019—the latest figures available—overall cancer deaths in the U.S. decreased by 2.1 percent annually for both men and women. Men saw death rates decrease by 2.3 percent per year during this period, while women registered annual declines of 1.9 percent.
The steepest declines in death rates were for lung cancer and melanoma, 4 percent to 5 percent per year among both men and women. Death rates did, however, increase for men suffering from cancers of the pancreas, brain and bones and joints. Rates went up for women dealing with cancers of the pancreas and uterus.
“The findings in this year’s Annual Report to the Nation show our ongoing progress against cancer, continuing a more than two-decade trend in declining mortality that reflects improvements in preventing, detecting and treating cancer,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). “The advances shown in the report underscore the importance of working together across society to develop effective, equitable approaches to tackle this complex disease.”
While the U.S. report noted that incident rates were fairly stable for the most common cancers, men did see a rise in pancreas, kidney and testis cancers. Women recorded varying increases in cancers of the liver, melanoma, kidney, myeloma, pancreas, breast and oral cavity and pharynx.
“Through funding scientific breakthroughs and raising awareness about prevention and early detection, we are making progress against a subset of the more than 200 diseases we call cancer,” noted Karen E. Knudsen, M.B.A, Ph.D., chief executive officer, American Cancer Society. “However, for certain cancer types, concerning trends persist, and durable cures remain elusive for many people. We are committed to improving the lives of all cancer patients and their families, through accelerating research, increasing access to care through advocacy, and by providing direct patient support in communities across the nation, toward the shared goal of eliminating cancer as we know it.”
The report also broke down statistics on incident and death rates for various ethnic and demographic groups, showing slight but in some cases significant differences.
Canadians also received good news in the battle against cancer when the University of Toronto reported there are now 2.5 times as many breast cancer survivors in their country as there were 15 years ago in 2007.
The finding came after Amy Kirkham, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), realized there was little current data on survival rates in Canada. The most recent statistics were available before her recent work dating from 2007.
“Nearly 15 years had passed and I could not find a more recent citation about the prevalence of breast cancer survivors in Canada,” Kirkham explained. “Breast cancer mortality rates had continued to improve 26 percent over this time period, so I suspected that this number was no longer accurate.”
This realization led to a collaborative effort with Katarzyna Jerzak, a medical oncologist at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre, to update the data on survival rates. The researchers examined data over a 15-year span that found approximately 370,000 adult females in Canada were diagnosed with breast cancer and 86 percent of these women survived by 2022.
“This indicates that the prevalence of breast cancer survivors in the Canadian female population has doubled and that there are 2.5 times more survivors since the last estimate in 2007,” Kirkham reported.
Unfortunately, there was an unsettling twist in the Canadian team’s finding. Many of the treatments that improve breast cancer mortality rates can cause short-term and long-term side effects. These, in turn, can raise the risk of death from other causes such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease and other non-fatal health outcomes.
“The most common cause of death in women with breast cancer is heart disease,” Kirkham added.