US Cancer Mortality Declines, But More Work to be Done

JANUARY 04, 2018
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor
Deaths related directly to cancer continue to decline in the United States, resulting in nearly 2.4 million fewer cancer-related deaths, according to the recently-released American Cancer Society’s comprehensive annual report on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival.

According to the report, which is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the cancer death rate declined 1.7% from 2014 to 2015.

The decline is attributed to decreasing death rates for 4 major cancer sites:
  • Lung cancer (declined 45% from 1990 to 2015 among men and 19% from 2002 to 2015 among women)
  • Female breast cancer (down to 25% from 1989 to 2015)
  • Prostate cancer (dropped 52% from 1993 to 2015)
  • Colorectal cancer (down 52% from 1970 to 2015)
The decline can be attributed primarily to steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment of cancer, the researchers noted. In 2018, the report indicates that there will be 1,735,350 new patients with cancer and 609,640 cancer-related deaths in the United States.

While the report provides some promising results, the findings also show a continued disparity in cancer mortality among different racial groups. Among all ages combined, the cancer death rate in 2015 was 14% higher in non-Hispanic blacks than in non-Hispanic whites.

However, the data indicate that the gap is narrowing, although this is mainly in older age groups and does not reflect inequalities for young and middle-aged Americans. The gap narrowed 7% in those aged 65 years and older, but mortality rates were 31% higher in blacks than in whites under 65 years old, with larger disparities seen in many states.

Other key findings from the report:
  • Liver cancer incidence continues to rapidly increase in women, although it seems to be plateauing in men.
  • Melanoma incidence is slowing, particularly among younger people.
  • Thyroid cancer incidence has begun to stabilize after changes in clinical practice guidelines.
The decline has resulted in nearly 2.4 million fewer cancer-related deaths during this time period, which highlights the impact of cancer control efforts such as tobacco control, according to the researchers. The researchers concluded that advancing cancer control knowledge, including smoking cessation and increased uptake of cancer-preventing screening and human papillomavirus vaccination, particularly with an emphasis on groups facing disparities, could help make further progress.

Pharmacists can play an essential role in the education and counseling of patients with cancer, particularly by explaining the many modalities of cancer treatment and assisting patients in being compliant to their medication regimens. 

Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2018. CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2018. Doi: 10.3322/caac.21442


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