“You have cancer,” may be the most frightening thing a person can hear from their doctor.
However, it’s not the death sentence it might have been 30 years ago. Early screenings, advancements in treatment, and a greater emphasis on prevention have helped reduce the incidents of some cancers and increased the survival rates of cancer patients.
Cancer Control Month
Organizations focused on battling cancer take center stage in April thanks to a declaration in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He called upon doctors, universities, the media, and other organizations to raise awareness about cancer.
It’s been 79 years since that first Cancer Control Month. Incidents of cancer continue to increase as people live longer, but the number of deaths from cancer have dropped dramatically and continue to drop.
By the Numbers
There were 1.8 million cancer cases diagnosed in the United States in 2021. The American Cancer Society (ACS) projects 1.9 million new cases in 2022 and 609,360 deaths from cancer. That is about 1,670 deaths per day.
That death toll is high, but those numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 28 years. The cancer rate for men and women combined has fallen 32% from 1991 to 2019, the most recent year data were available, according to the ACS.
That 32% drop means almost 3.5 million fewer people died due to cancer during that time. Much of that success is due to fewer people smoking which led to drops in lung and other smoking-related cancers.
Other factors contributing to the lower death rate include:
- Chemotherapy after colon and breast cancer surgery
- Combination treatments for more cancers
- Early detection through improved screenings for cancers in the breast, cervix, colon, prostate, rectum, and lung
Sometimes cancer just happens. There could be hereditary factors that contribute to the development of cancers like colon, breast, prostate, pancreatic, and ovarian cancer. Doctors have identified the gene mutations and are working to address those in an attempt to control cancer development.
Other times, perfectly healthy people develop blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma. Even nonsmokers can develop lung cancer. It just happens.
However, anywhere from 30% to 50% of cancer cases are preventable. There are now vaccines that will reduce the risk of some sexually transmitted cancers. It’s also important to practice the following to help lower your chances of developing some cancers:
- Avoid tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes.
- Eat a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Practice safe sex.
- Get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation.
- Reduce exposure to other types of radiation because of work or environment.
- Reduce exposure to smoke from solid fuels like wood or coal.
- Have regular medical visits.
The overall progress in the fight against cancer has been promising. However, significant disparities exist when it comes to the diagnosis, treatment, and survival rates of certain groups, according to the National Cancer Institute.
- African Americans have higher death rates than any other ethnic group from many — though not all — cancer types.
- African American women are more likely than white women to die of breast cancer despite having similar rates of diagnosis.
- Black men are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. They also have the highest prostate mortality rate among all U.S. population groups despite the overall death rate dropping significantly.
- People with more education are less likely to die from colorectal cancer before the age of 65 than those with less education, regardless of race or ethnicity.
- Hispanic and Black women have higher rates of cervical cancer than women of other groups.
Start with Your Doctor
Having a good relationship with your primary care physician is the best way to begin your long-term health care journey. They can get you on a path that will help you avoid the risks that might lead to cancer. They can also help guide you to the right specialists, should you ever get that diagnosis.