US cancer death rates continue to fall as 5-year survival rates rise – study

Haroon Siddique
The authors suggest that factors including improved early detection and more effective treatment helped bring about the fall. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Cancer death rates in the United States are continuing to fall and the five-year survival rates of those diagnosed with the disease have risen, research shows.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published on Friday, also shows a decline in incidence of cancer among men in recent years, although it remained stable among women.

Death rates from 2010 to 2014 decreased for 11 of the 16 most common types of cancer in men and for 13 of the 18 most common types of cancer in women, including lung, colorectal, female breast, and prostate cancers.

The authors, from the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR) suggest a decline in smoking – down more than 50% over the last 50 years – as well as improved early detection and more effective treatment helped bring about the fall.

But they warn that smoking continues to pose a threat along with obesity, rates of which are at 20% or or more in every state.

NAACCR executive director Betsy Kohler said. “The continued drops in overall cancer death rates in the United States are welcome news, reflecting improvements in prevention, early detection, and treatment.

“But this report also shows us that progress has been limited for several cancers, which should compel us to renew our commitment to efforts to discover new strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment, and to apply proven interventions broadly and equitably.”

The report, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that death rates increased for cancers of the liver, pancreas, and brain in men and for liver and uterine cancer in women.

Overall, cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% a year in women.

During the period 1999 to 2013, cancer incidence rates in men fell by 2.3%, according to the study.

Compared with cases diagnosed between 1975 and 1977, five-year survival for cancers diagnosed in 2006 to 2012 increased significantly for all manifestations of the disease bar cervical and uterine cancer.

The greatest absolute increases in survival (25% or greater) were seen in prostate and kidney cancers, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and leukaemia.

Further improvements in survival prospects are expected in the wake of recent advances in precision medicine and immunotherapy for late stage cancers. But the authors warn that the high cost of new cancer drugs – up to $10,000 (£8,000) per month – may put them out of reach even to Medicare-insured patients, who would still be left with a bill for around 20% of the drug’s cost.

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