an imaging technician performing a mammogram on a woman
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  • The American Cancer Society is predicting more than 1.9 million cancer cases and over 600,000 cancer-related deaths in 2023.
  • They estimate that from 2019 to 2020 the cancer death rate declined 1.5%.
  • It declined a whopping 33% since 1991.
  • Reserachers found that prostate cancer rates have increased while the last decade has seen a significant drop in cervical cancer cases for young women. 

This week the American Cancer Society (ACS) published their annual report on cancer statistics.

They estimate that the cancer death rate has dropped 33% since 1991 and that 3.8 million cancer deaths have been prevented from 1991 to 2020.

From 2019 to 2020 they estimate that the cancer death rate declined by 1.5% despite the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rising and falling cancer case rates

The research published on January 12 incorporates data from numerous sources, including the National Cancer Institute, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers found less disparity in the cancer rates between men and women.

But they found that age is still a significant factor in overall treatment outcomes.

The rates of cancer of those ages 20 to 49 are drastically higher in women (80%) but if we shift the age bracket to those over age 75, men are overrepresented at a 50% higher rate

According to experts who spoke to Healthline, the report is an important snapshot that shows how far we have come in the fight against cancer.

Cervical cancer shows historical decline

Cancer rates have reduced consistently in America since the beginning of the 1990’s.

One of the biggest success stories is the drop of cerficial cancer rates.

Cervical cancer rates have dropped significantly—about 65%—in the last seven years of available data, but barriers still remain for Hispanic women, who saw their rates increase over the same span. 

The large drop in cervical cancer cases is heavily attributed in the report to a vaccine that came into being in 2006 that is used to protect against HPV-16 and HPV-18, the two strains that cause the majority of cervical cancer cases. 

Because of the nature of reporting processes, the first vaccinated people are now well into adulthood. Still, Dr. John Diaz, of Miami, Florida’s Baptist Health says that the fact that cases are still as high as they are is disappointing. 

“Many of these women who are diagnosed have either never had cervical cancer screening because they come from outside the United States, or unfortunately, do live within the United States and don’t have access to health care…This is a totally preventable cancer, 99% of cervical cancers are HPV-related, and so it is frustrating that we haven’t done a better job to eliminate this.”

The ACS’ report repeatedly points back to barriers facing minorities when it comes to patient outcomes.

For example, women living in Puerto Rico face a 30% higher rate of cervical cancer cases when compared to Hispanic women who live in the mainland United States. Diaz says that, as someone who works at a cancer center, his eye is continually on the lack of diversity that tends to affect research. 

“It’s so important to increase recruitment of minorities and underrepresented communities into these clinical trials and the best way to do this is to take these clinical trials to urban centers, like Miami, where we can be sure to enroll a very diverse population.”

Prostate cancer on the rise

One area of concern for experts is rising rates of prostate cancer.

The report shows that rates of the condition increased by 3% each year from 2014 to 2019 and certain demographic groups are more affected than others.

Black men are at a significantly higher risk for both getting and dying from prostate cancer.

That information is important to people like Michael Hoyt, PhD, a researcher at the University of California-Irvine who is looking at the mental health effects of prostate cancer treatment. He says more can be done to support that increased number of prostate cancer patients – stated to be 99,000 by the ACS.

“When you see data, like an increase in prostate cancer, the interpretation isn’t necessarily ‘We’re losing the war on cancer.’ In fact, our treatments are always getting better and our outcomes with prostate cancer are very, very good. But what you might think about is that that means we have more people who have gone through that experience living a long life, post-prostate cancer and possibly managing the fallout of a disease like that.”

How the cancer report can help with future treatments

Hoyt points out that reports like this have a significant impact on what research, trials, and treatments receive funding. 

“What these kinds of data [reports] do, in particular for people like me, researchers like me, practitioners, is they set agendas. And that’s really important, because dollars follow the agenda. And that may sound very brass tacks, but the dollars is also funding the good research that answers the questions, that hopefully, eventually.  translate into evidence-based kinds of practice in clinical and community settings.”

Mona Jhaveri, PhD, who has shifted from working in lab-based settings to founding a non-profit called Music Beats Cancer, agrees that documents like these do shape the kinds of care available and that these outcomes are on long timelines. She says that she’s seen a heavy preference from investors towards drugs rather than preventative measures.

“Most innovation and a lot [of it] that gets funded are drugs, not vaccines, not prevention, not screening, they’re drugs. And yet, what could really help…is more prevention and more screening. So there’s a divide going on between what’s being developed and what will actually help improve those numbers.”

Jhaveri says that what it will take to improve the funding side of healthcare innovation is a continued concerted effort between governments, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions to take on the data that these types of reports provide.

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