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Americans' Risk of Dying From Cancer Is Falling, CDC Finds

Americans' Risk of Dying From Cancer Is Falling, CDC Finds | Healthcare and Technology news |

The risk that any one American will die from cancer -- thecancer death rate -- is going down, regardless of sex or race, a new government study reports.

However, because the United States has a growing aging population, the overall number of people dying from cancer is on the rise, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"While we are making progress in reducing cancer death rates, we still have real work to do to reduce cancer deaths among our aging population," said lead researcher Mary White, a scientist in the CDC's division of cancer prevention and control.

Between 2007 and 2020, cancer deaths are expected to rise more than 10 percent among men and black women, the report found. Among white women, the number of cancer deaths will start to stabilize, increasing less than 5 percent during this period, according to the CDC researchers.

"Further declines in cancer deaths might be achieved if we can reach other national targets for addressing risk factors," White said.

These include cutting exposure to tobacco and UV radiation, increasing cancer screening for early detection, and improving access to health care to increase early treatment and survival, she said.

White said that a decline in cancer death rates -- even as the actual number of cancer deaths rises -- is not a paradox.

"Death rates are calculated by dividing the number of cancer deaths by the number of people in the population," she explained.

The number of older adults continues to grow, White explained. "Because death rates for many cancers increase with age, the number of people who die from cancer is also predicted to grow, even while death rates decline," she said.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn., agreed that reducing cancer deaths and reducing cancer are not the same.

"Cancer death rates are declining markedly, which is excellent news and testimony to the power of early detection and improving treatments," said Katz, who was not involved with the study.

And Dr. Rich Wender, the chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society, said, "We have made substantial progress for many of the common adult cancers. The key to that progress is applying research about how to prevent cancer, how to detect it early and treat it effectively."

According to the study findings, between 1975 and 2009, the number of cancer deaths increased 45.5 percent among white men, 56 percent among white women, 53 percent among black men and 98 percent among black women.

These increases are primarily attributed to an aging white population and an increasing black population, White said. This pattern is likely to continue, she added.

The government's Healthy People 2020 initiative set a goal of reducing the rate of cancer deaths by 10 to 15 percent for some cancers by 2020. This target was met for prostate cancer in 2010, the study authors said.

Researchers expect to meet the goal for breast, cervix, colon and rectum, lung and bronchus cancers in 2015. The death rates for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx seem to be stabilizing, the report said.

However, the goal for melanoma is not expected to be achieved. "It's discouraging to find out that we aren't reducing deaths from melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer," White said.

"We know that most cases of melanoma are preventable," she said. "To lower your skin cancer risk, protect your skin from the sun and avoid indoor tanning."

White suggested the people can lower their own risk of dying from cancer by learning about screening tests and other steps they can take to prevent cancer.

"While we have seen improvements to lower cancer deaths, everyone can learn about screening tests and the cancer prevention steps that are right for them," she said.

Katz pointed out that "back in 1981, researchers first highlighted the substantial preventability of cancer by changing one's lifestyle. Most authorities remain convinced that 30 to 60 percent of cancers could be prevented by avoiding tobacco, having a healthy diet, routine activity and weight control."

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U.S. cancer survival rates improving

U.S. cancer survival rates improving | Healthcare and Technology news |

The proportion of people surviving years after a cancer diagnosis is improving, according to a new analysis.

Men and women ages 50 to 64, who were diagnosed in 2005 to 2009 with a variety of cancer types, were 39 to 68 percent more likely to be alive five years later, compared to people of the same age diagnosed in 1990 to 1994, researchers found.

“Pretty much all populations improved their cancer survival over time,” said Dr. Wei Zheng, the study’s senior author from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

As reported in JAMA Oncology, he and his colleagues analyzed data from a national sample of more than 1 million people who were diagnosed with cancer of the colon or rectum, breast, prostate, lung, liver, pancreas or ovary between 1990 and 2010.

Among people ages 50 to 64 diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer in 1990 to 1994, about 58 percent were alive five years later. Five-year survival rates were about 83 percent for breast cancer, about 7 percent for liver cancer, about 13 percent for lung cancer, about 5 percent for pancreas cancer, about 91 percent for prostate cancer and about 47 percent for ovarian cancer.

Among people in the same age range diagnosed between 2005 and 2009, a larger proportion survived each of the cancers except ovarian cancer. Survival rates at five years rose by 43 percent for colon or rectum cancers, 52 percent for breast cancer, 39 percent for liver cancer, 68 percent for prostate cancer, 25 percent for lung cancer and 27 percent for pancreas cancer, compared to the early 1990s.

The better odds of survival did not apply equally to all age groups, however, and tended to favor younger patients. For example, survival rose by only 12 to 35 percent for people diagnosed between ages 75 to 85.

And while there was a small improvement in ovarian cancer survival among white women during the study period, survival among black women with ovarian cancer got worse.

Advances in treatments and better cancer screenings and diagnoses are likely responsible for the overall increases in survival, the researchers write.

“In general our study shows different segments benefit differently from recent advances in oncology,” Zheng said. “We need to find out the reason.”

The researchers speculate that older people may not benefit equally from medical advances, because doctors may avoid aggressive care for them for fear they couldn't tolerate treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.

Also, older people and racial minorities are less likely to be included in trials of new cancer treatments, the researchers point out. They say more effort should be made to include those groups in trials so doctors have treatment guidelines based on science.

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