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Finally, it’s the Big C-ya.
On Tuesday, the American Cancer Society reported a record drop in cancer deaths for the second straight year. Thanks to a sharp decrease in smoking, US mortality rates from cancer dropped 2.4 percent in 2018, translating to about 3.2 million lives saved.
“We were very encouraged to see, for the second year in a row, a record drop in the year-over-year cancer mortality rate,” the study’s lead author, Rebecca L. Siegel, told The Post. “We’ve had a continuous decline in the cancer mortality rate for 27 years now, but in the last few years the decline has really accelerated.”
Particularly, the Atlanta-based cancer epidemiologist pointed out, the lung cancer mortality rate. From 2014 to 2018, it contributed to nearly 50% of the total decline in cancer deaths in the last five years.
The ACS attributed the encouraging numbers to more people cutting down on or quitting smoking, as well as continuing advances in lung cancer treatment. With cancer being the second leading cause of death in the US behind heart disease, Siegel is encouraged by the trend.
“While it’s true that continued reductions in smoking are contributing, now we’re actually seeing advances in lung cancer treatment,” she added. “In the past few years, there’s been improvements in treatments at every state of lung cancer diagnosis, and it’s showing up in survival rates and increased reductions in lung cancer mortality.
“It’s really good news for lung cancer patients.”
Siegel did note that she hopes there isn’t an uptick in smoking during the pandemic, like there have been reports of increased alcohol consumption.
“While there definitely is more hope now for lung cancer patients than there was a decade ago — in terms of survival — [it] still causes more deaths each year than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined,” said Siegel. “More than 80% of these deaths are caused by smoking. It’s very important to send a message to stop smoking, or for young people not to start.”
The overall cancer mortality rate among men and women in 2018 was 149 cases per 100,000 people, according to the study published in the journal “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.”
But not everyone is convinced the numbers will continue in the right direction, given nervousness about medical appointments during the pandemic.
“We’re concerned about people not coming in for their routine testing, because of fear of contagion,” said Dr. Larry Norton, Senior Vice President and medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, citing screenings such as mammographies and colonoscopies.
He portends a possibly devastating development as a result: “When the pandemic is under control, we may see an explosion of advanced cancers because people may be sitting home letting them grow instead of getting diagnosed.”
Still, the upside, according to Dr. Norton, is that “Cancer is not something we can’t defeat.
“It’s not a hopeless situation. If we stop our behaviors that cause cancer, and get the screenings we’re supposed to get, and continue funding for cancer research so we can produce new advances, cancer can be defeated. That day will come, but we have to make it come as fast as possible.
“The good news is that cancer is not a hopeless situation.”