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Cancer death rates continue to decline, experts find

While progress can still be made, researchers say outlooks are looking positive

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Early last year, researchers found that the cancer death rate has been declining for the last three decades. 

Now, experts from the American Cancer Society found that those figures continue to trend downwards. Between 2016 and 2017, the overall cancer death rate dropped 2.2 percent -- a history-making figure. The researchers point to progress made in lung and skin cancer treatments as one such reason for the positive results in recent years. 

“The accelerated drops in lung cancer mortality as well as in melanoma that we’re seeing are likely due at least in part to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy,” said researcher Dr. William G. Cance. “They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients.” 

Evaluating progress

While the American Cancer Society frequently reports on trends in cancer research and deaths, this most recent iteration highlights the progress made between 2008 and 2017, which researcher Rebecca Siegel calls “mixed” overall.

For starters, the researchers discovered that the cancer death rate dropped 1.5 percent over the last decade. This figure may not seem significant, but the researchers explained that if the death rates had remained consistently high, nearly three million more deaths would have been reported. 

The study revealed that the melanoma death rate, which has been particularly tough for the older demographic, has seen improvements in recent years; the overall melanoma death rate steadily declined by seven percent each year between 2013 and 2017. 

The lung cancer death rate followed a similar trajectory, dropping five percent in men and four percent in women over the same time span. Many point to efforts made to tighten tobacco control programs, which have yielded successful results. 

Room for improvement

However, this study also showed that there is still room for improvement when it comes to detecting and treating prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. These variations of the disease are among the most popular. With earlier detection, medical professionals can help consumers start a course of treatment that can attack the condition head-on. 

“The exciting gains in reducing mortality for melanoma and lung cancer are tempered by slowing progress for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, which are amenable to early detection,” said Siegel. “It’s a reminder that increasing our investment in the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions, as well as basic and clinical research to further advance treatment, would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer.” 

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