There’s good reason for hope in the fight against cancer: Death rates are declining for many malignancies, according to numbers from the American Cancer Society. The group recently released its latest rundown on cancer, “Cancer Facts and Figures 2012.”
For men, death rates from lung, prostate, colon and rectal cancers are down. Women saw decreased death rates from breast, colon and rectal cancers, and lung cancer also appears to have taken a turn.
James Lacey Jr.
According to James V. Lacey Jr., Ph.D., associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Cancer Etiology, smoking is a key factor.
“The steady decline in the lung cancer death rate among men is a result of strong efforts to curb smoking,” he said.
This hints that the lung cancer death rate among women also should start to decline soon. But efforts to help smokers quit and, even better, to keep people from taking that first puff will need to continue, he explained.
But Lacey warns that obesity, now at epidemic proportions in the U.S., may stall the improvements in cancer survival.
“Particularly worrying is the prospect that obesity can both increase the risk of developing cancer and adversely affect the chances of survival among patients with certain cancers,” he said.
The American Cancer Society report also includes a section on cancers that are becoming more common. Among them are pancreatic, liver and bile duct, thyroid and kidney cancers as well as melanoma of the skin.
The causes of these cancers remains uncertain, but the report notes that some evidence points to tobacco and obesity as risk factors.
In California, some studies link the rise in melanoma to greater use of indoor tanning beds, particularly among young girls.
“There may be other factors contributing to melanoma rates as well, but this is something that Californians should think about,” Lacey said.
But focusing on the improvements in survival, Lacey noted survivorship has emerged as a key concern.
“Earlier detection of cancer generally helps to save lives, but that also means patients may face the challenges of survivorship sooner than they otherwise would have if their tumors had not been diagnosed earlier,” he said.
And because survivors will live longer as treatments continue to improve, patients, their families and caregivers and health professionals will need to understand the long-term health risks cancer survivors may face.
“This is particularly important for survivors of childhood cancer,” said Lacey. Research studies that are tracking the health of childhood cancer survivors, including studies being conducted at City of Hope, are beginning to shed light on these issues, and it’s vital to keep pressing ahead with these efforts.
City of Hope currently provides survivorship programs for patients with prostate cancer and breast cancer, as well as for pediatric cancer patients.