Awareness, education, advances lead to cancer death rate declines

A new report shows the death rate from cancer has dropped 33 percent over the past three decades.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 8:57 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A new report shows the death rate from cancer has dropped 33 percent over the past three decades.

“This is a very exciting time in our lives,” said Dr. John Ma, a radiation oncologist with Topeka’s Cotton O’Neil Cancer Center.

Dr. Ma says the numbers in the American Cancer Society’s 2023 cancer statistics report are the result of three decades of efforts he divides into four areas. First, he says, patients are more informed. While he cautions people do need to be cautious about what they find on “Dr. Google,” the internet can be a good resource.

“In terms of public education and awareness, not only do we have access to these national organizations, we have even more access to our own individual health data and records,” he said. “That eases the communication between the patient, their nurses and their physicians.”

Dr. Ma says another factor is more people taking part in screenings to catch cancers early: mammograms for breast cancer, pap smears for cervical cancer, PSA tests for prostate cancer, colonoscopy for colon cancer, and more recently - a low-dose CT scan is now recommended for those at high risk for lung cancer.

“The prognosis of cancer - even the same type of cancer - is very different stage one versus stage four,” he said.

Dr. Ma says those factors are coupled with public health initiatives. According to the ACS report, introduction of the HPV vaccine led to a 65 percent drop in cervical cancers in woman aged 20 to 24 between 2012 and 2019. In addition, smoking cessation campaigns led to declines in lung cancers.

“The public health officials can prescribe and advocate for early screening, (but) without the public knowledge, nobody would actually do those,” Dr. Ma said.

Finally, Dr. May credits huge strides in the past three decades in medical technology, radiology and surgical techniques, and new forms of therapies - from chemotherapies, to stem cell and immunotherapy treatments.

“Now, we have the technology to convince and educate and guide our own immune system to tackle and go after the cancer cells,” he said. “There’s better techniques. For example, laparoscopic and robotic assisted surgical techniques. In terms of radiation technology, we are capable of pinpointing the exact location of a tumor in the human body with a higher dose of radiation delivered to the tumor without much of a spillage radiation to the surrounding tissue.”

Dr. Ma says he’s hopeful these strides continue and lead to a day when treating cancer is much like treating a chronic condition, like high blood pressure.

“So we no longer die from cancer. Rather, we can live with a good quality of life, and joyfully, in coexistence with cancer,” he said.

The ACS report did highlight a few concerns. Among them, prostate cancers were up three percent from 2014 to 2019, which was the first increase in 20 years. The ACS notes it may be because concerns of over-diagnosis led to changes in screening recommendations.

The report also found racial disparities in death rates. In addition, they organization says this report is too soon to reflect whether the COVID pandemic had any impact on diagnosis and survival rates.

You can view the full report by clicking here.