Survival Continues to Improve for Most Cancers

Still, more progress is needed and racial disparities remain, U.S. report finds
woman who had chemotherapy
woman who had chemotherapy

FRIDAY, March 31, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Overall cancer death rates in the United States continue to fall, but racial gaps persist, a new report says.

Death rates fell between 2010 and 2014 for 11 of the 16 most common cancers in men and for 13 of the most common types in women, including lung, colon, prostate and breast cancers.

However, death rates rose for cancers of the liver, pancreas and brain in men and for the liver and uterus in women.

And improvements in cancer survival weren't equal for all Americans.

"While this report found that five-year survival for most types of cancer improved among both blacks and whites over the past several decades, racial disparities for many common cancers have persisted, and they may have increased for prostate cancer and female breast cancer," said Dr. Lynne Penberthy. She's associate director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Surveillance Research Program.

"We still have a lot of work to do to understand the causes of these differences, but certainly differences in the kinds and timing of recommended treatments are likely to play a role," Penberthy added.

The new report tracked data from 1975 through 2014 and is published March 31 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It's a collaborative effort by numerous groups, including the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute.

"Survival improved over time for almost all cancers at every stage of diagnosis," report lead author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal said in a journal news release. He is vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society.

"But survival remains very low for some types of cancer and for most types of cancers diagnosed at an advanced stage," Jemal added.

Five-year survival rates rose dramatically between the mid-1970s and 2012 for all but two types of cancer -- cervical and uterine. The largest increases in survival (25 percent or more) were for prostate and kidney cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia.

The lowest survival rates for cancers diagnosed between 2006 and 2012 were: pancreas (8.5 percent survival five years after diagnosis); liver (18.1 percent); lung (18.7 percent); esophagus (20.5 percent); stomach (31.1 percent), and brain (35 percent).

The cancers with the highest survival rates were prostate (99.3 percent); thyroid (98.3 percent); melanoma (93.2 percent), and female breast (90.8 percent).

The report also showed that tobacco-related cancers have low survival rates, underscoring the importance of steps to reduce tobacco use, said Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

She said reducing the nation's obesity epidemic is also important. Obesity is a risk factor for cancer, and at least 20 percent of adults nationwide are obese.

There were some gender differences -- overall, rates of new cancer diagnoses decreased in men but remained the same in women between 1999 and 2013, the report found.

Greater effort is also needed to identify major risk factors for common cancers, such as colon, breast and prostate, and to find out why uterine, female breast and pancreatic cancer are on the rise, according to the report.

One oncologist was upbeat about the latest statistics.

"It is encouraging to see that the immense drive to improving cancer survival is working, as overall survival from cancer continues to improve," said Dr. Stephanie Bernik. She's chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"Much of the advances have been on the genetic level of a cancer cell and as we gain more knowledge of the workings of cancer cells, advances in treatment will continue," Bernik said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer.

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