On Monday the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, a massive, coordinated report from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been published since 1998 and it offers annual updates of new cancer cases, death rates, and trends in the US.
The takeaway from the report is meant to be that death rates from cancer in the country are on a steady decline across both genders and all major racial and ethnic groups, as well as among the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer, including cancers of the prostate, lung, breast and colon.
However not all cancer rates have dropped—in fact, several cancers have increased since 2000, including cancers of the pancreas, thyroid, liver, melanoma, myeloma, and kidney. During this same time frame, the rate of uterine cancer and leukemia have gone up among women, while rates of lung cancer deaths among women have gone down.
Said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society:
“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer. The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”
However, not everyone is finding this report a reason to cheer. Critics of the report, cited in an article by Sharon Begley through Reuters, include Fran Visco, the head of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, who called the small rate of decrease, "an incremental improvement" compared to the decades of money and research that have been directed towards the fight against cancer since 1975. Added Visco, "We don't look at this as progress."
MIT cancer biologist Robert Weinberg summed it up best when he directed attention not at treatment but at the heart of lowering cancer incidence:
"If the American public really wants fewer people to die from cancer, then there will need to be major changes in lifestyle… [meaning from] prevention rather than treatment."
This sentiment is echoed in the report since it points to the reduction in smoking as being one of the major reasons why there has been a decrease at all in cancer incidence.
Source: Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2009, Featuring the Burden and Trends in Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-Associated Cancers and HPV Vaccination Coverage Levels. Published early online January 7, 2013 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia.
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