Advances in early detection and treatments, along with many more people quitting smoking, has helped drop the death rate from cancer by 26 percent from its peak in 1991, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society  (ACS).
This means that nearly 2.4 million lives have been saved as a result of these advances or lifestyle modifications such as eliminating tobacco, states the ACS. The overall drop in the cancer death rate is mostly due to fewer deaths from lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
The latest ACS statistics are based on data from 2014 to 2015. During those 12 months, the cancer death rate went down 1.7 percent, representing a ratio of 158.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
Still, more than 1.7 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and almost 610,000 people will die from the disease this year, the researchers said.
“A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates,” said Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “Strikingly though, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly 3 in 10 cancer deaths.”
Lung cancer death rates declined 45 percent from 1990 to 2015 among men, and 19 percent from 2002 to 2015 among women. Breast cancer death rates dropped 39 percent from 1989 to 2015 among women. The progress is attributed to improvements in early detection.
Colorectal cancer death rates declined 52 percent from 1970 to 2015 among men and women because of increased screening and improvements in treatment.
After cancer has been diagnosed, proven treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, as well as emerging treatments such as immunotherapy, targeted therapies and proton therapy, which will soon be available at Miami Cancer Institute, are more safely and effectively fighting cancer.
This past October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aprpoved a treatment called Yescarta, which is aimed at adults with a certain type of blood cancer called “diffuse large B-cell” lymphoma. It is also the first gene therapy for certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It marked the second FDA approval of a gene therapy treatment – or “immunotherapy.” The first came in late August when the U.S. agency gave the go-ahead to Kymriah for certain pediatric and young adult patients with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Since the cancer death rate peaked in 1991, it has dropped more sharply among men than in women. Lung-cancer death rates fell 45 percent among men between 1990 and 2015. For women, the death rate declined 19 percent between 2002 and 2015, says the ACS report. Death rates from other cancers have increased in recent years, including cases of uterine cancers, liver cancers and pancreatic cancer in men.
Challenges in combating cancers remain, especially as the U.S. obesity epidemic continues. Several studies also validate the role a person’s weight plays in the growth of cancer cells.