• January 21, 2020

CATES: Declining cancer deaths - Odessa American: Health

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CATES: Declining cancer deaths

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Posted: Monday, January 13, 2020 4:00 am

My mom died from kidney cancer. She was diagnosed in the fall of 2001, and died a little over six months later in the spring of 2002. She had wonderful care, both here in the Permian Basin, and also at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Unfortunately at the time, there weren’t many treatment options the kind of kidney cancer she had, and it quickly proved fatal. Since my mom’s death, I have had the privilege of seeing so many advances in treatments for cancer. I have seen many people who have the same kind of cancer my mom had become cancer survivors. We are getting closer every day to a cure. To start off the new decade of cancer care, the American Cancer Society announced some great news. 2017 had the largest decline in cancer deaths yet.

Since 1992, cancer death rates have been decreasing in the U.S. Twenty-nine percent fewer people in the U.S. died in the U.S. when comparing rates from 1991 and 2017. In raw numbers that means 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths occurred during those years. Between 2016 and 2017, the death rate dropped 2.2 percent — the largest decline in a single year.

The American Cancer Society is relating the decrease in cancer deaths to several things: a decline in smoking rates, increased early detection and treatment, and large declines in the four major kinds of cancer — lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Improved treatments for melanoma introduced in 2011 have also led to rapid drops in the death rate for skin cancer.

The biggest drop has been in the rates for lung cancer deaths. Between 2008 and 2013 the decreases in lung cancer deaths were pretty steady, at about 3 percent per year. But since 2013, the decrease in death rates for lung cancer has grown to 5 percent per year.

Unfortunately, not all cancers have seen a decline, death rates rose between 2008 and 2017 for cancers of the liver, pancreas in men, uterine, small intestine, anus, penis, brain and other nervous systems, eyes, and mouth cancers related to exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV). The American Cancer Society also noted significant disparities in cancer survival related to racial and socioeconomic lines.

After adjusting for sex, age and cancer stage at time of diagnosis, black patients are 33 percent more likely to die of cancer, and 51 percent higher among Native Americans and Native Alaskans. Socioeconomics contribute to barriers in prevention, early detection, and treatment — all of which are proven to decrease cancer deaths.

There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer, and your risk of dying of cancer if you do receive that awful diagnosis. First stop smoking. I know that is much easier said than done.

The American Cancer Society has many resources to help people stop, your primary health care provider can also help with resources to stop smoking. Second, practice prevention: diet, exercise, and vaccination for HPV all reduce cancer risk. Lastly, develop a relationship with a health care provider so you can get early detection screens and catch cancer when it is most treatable — in Stage I.

There are also many organizations in the Permian Basin that can help people get cancer screenings if socioeconomic barriers exist. Pink the Basin is a great example. They give mammogram “scholarships” to those in need so everyone who should get a mammogram, can get a mammogram.

I am so excited to hear the news about our victories in decreasing cancer deaths across the U.S. I don’t have access to the data that the American Cancer Society does, but from what I see in patients, family, and friends, and the work that is going on in the Permian Basin to decrease health disparities, I believe this year is going to be even better.

Odessa, TX

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