Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 02:22 pm
A new peer-reviewed article provides data that shows that the cancer mortality rate in the US has dropped by 33% since 1991. This is definitely good news in a world where we are getting hit by bad medical news. And it seems like we’re winning the war on cancer.
This also goes against the claims by Joe Mercola and Robert F Kennedy Jr that the mass COVID-19 vaccination has caused a large increase in cancer deaths. Obviously, using real data, it hasn’t, but when are Mercola and RFK Jr ever right about anything?
Although I am not a cancer scientist nor do I play one on the internet, I like to keep abreast of new technologies and new pseudoscience about cancer. Since I am no David Gorski, MD, a real cancer scientist, I can’t tell you the best way to treat breast cancer, but I can generally tell you what’s a scam because I know how to read science articles.
But, most of all, I love to discuss meta-level data like cancer mortality rates because they tell more of the story of how successful we are in fighting the war on cancer. I know people are more afraid of dying of cancer than almost any disease. If COVID-19 were cancer, there would be NOBODY refusing the vaccine, even among the most ardent anti-vaxxers. I haven’t seen polling on this, but I’ll bet that people are scared of cancer more than any other disease out there.
So, we’re going to dig into this new research on cancer death rates, so that maybe the reader will feel less afraid of cancer as a group of diseases (there are over 200 different cancers, at least). Let’s go.
Cancer mortality rate paper
In a paper published in January 2023 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Rebeca L Siegel, MPH, and colleagues used data from the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) to determine the cancer mortality rate in the USA since 1991. Both registries include nearly 100% of the cancer diagnoses in the USA.
Here are some of the more interesting results:
- The US cancer death rate has fallen 33% since 1991, which corresponds to an estimated 3.8 million deaths averted.
- Among women in their early 20s, there was a 65% drop in cervical cancer rates from 2012 through 2019. This corresponds to the time period during which the HPV vaccine was introduced and was recommended for boys and girls.
- The five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined has increased from 49% for diagnoses in the mid-1970s to 68% for diagnoses during 2012-18.
- The cancer types with the highest five-year survival rates are thyroid (98%), prostate (97%), testis (95%), and melanoma (94%).
- Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate at 12%.
- The news is not all good. Breast, uterine corpus, and prostate cancers have shown increases in incidence since the mid-2000s. Breast cancer incidence has increased by about 0.5% per year since 2005. Uterine corpus cancer incidence has increased about 1% per year since the mid-2000s among women 50 and older and nearly 2% per year since at least the mid-1990s in younger women. The prostate cancer incidence rate rose 3% annually from 2014 through 2019, although improved detection techniques may have inflated this number.
- Black men have seen a 70% increase in the incidence of prostate cancer compared to white men and a 2-4X increase in prostate cancer mortality as related to any other ethnic and racial group in the United States.
- The lifetime risk for prostate cancer in American men is about 12.6%.
- The lifetime risk for all cancers in American men is 40.9% and in American women, 39.1%. Note this is not your risk per year, annual risk increases as you age. These numbers represent the risk of all cancers if you live a normal lifespan.
What is behind the improvement?
Siegel et al. pointed out three key reasons for the reduction in mortality rate:
- Better and earlier detection of cancer. The earlier the stage of cancer, the better the results from treatment.
- Advances in science-based treatment strategies for cancer. Typically, cancer treatment includes surgery (if indicated) plus adjuvant therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy. Each year brings new medications to treat one or more cancers.
- Less tobacco smoking. According to the CDC, around 12.5% of Americans smoke tobacco products. Smoking is so unusual in this country, I’m always shocked when I smell cigarette smoke outside of a building.
There are a handful of ways to reduce the risk of cancer, such as stopping smoking, getting the HPV and hepatitis B vaccines, avoiding obesity, not drinking alcohol, staying out of the sun, and eating a healthy diet, which if employed could probably reduce both the risk of cancer and the mortality rate.
One of the best ways to conquer cancer is to see your physician regularly and get all of the cancer diagnostics procedures, like colonoscopies, at age-appropriate times. As I wrote above, early detection means better outcomes all around.
Overall, this is good news.
I know a lot of people are afraid of cancer. It’s not really preventable (you can reduce the risk, but you can’t eliminate it), and the treatments always appear to be as bad as the disease (it isn’t, it just appears that way). Maybe this data will make you less afraid of the disease.
But more than that, you can feel confident that science researchers across the world are focused on finding treatments that will improve the mortality rate for cancer even more in the upcoming decades.
- Siegel RL, Miller KD, Wagle NS, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2023. CA Cancer J Clin. 2023 Jan;73(1):17-48. doi: 10.3322/caac.21763. PMID: 36633525.