Cancer deaths lower, but some say not enough
January 4th, 2012
02:55 PM ET

Cancer deaths lower, but some say not enough

A new report from the American Cancer Society shows that death rates from cancer have been going down since 1999, with the risk of death from cancer declining by more than 1% in both men and women. About 1 million deaths from cancer have been avoided since around 1991.

That sounds promising, but it's not as good as it could be, says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society and CNNHealth.com conditions expert.

"Our data on cancer causation and cancer prevention tells us that we could have done a lot better," Brawley said.

Given all of the available information about how to prevent, screen for and treat cancer effectively, it appears that up to 200,000 lives could have been saved in 2008 if all of those known measures had been taken, Brawley said. More specifically, many of those deaths would not have occurred if more people hadn't been smoking over the past 20 years. That's because it takes about 20 to 30 years of smoking to develop lung cancer.

"It's not truly a war if we have 200,000 avoidable casualties in one year and everybody yawns," Brawley said.

The American Cancer Society report, called Cancer Statistics, 2012, estimated that more than 1.6 million new cancer cases and about 580,000 deaths from cancer will occur in the United States in 2012.

Besides tobacco, the combination of obesity, high caloric intake and lack of physical activity is causing cancer among many Americans, Brawley said. This will one day surpass tobacco as the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, he said.

Cancers of the pancreas, liver and esophagus were found to be on the rise and can all be tied to obesity, Brawley said. Hepatitis B and C, transmitted sexually and through intravenous drug use, may also lead to liver cancer.

The report also showed a rise in the incidence of thyroid cancer, which could be because of improved diagnostic methods, as well as increasing rates of throat cancer, which could be tied to the spread of human papillomavirus during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. The HPV vaccine, available for young men and women aged 11 to 26, may help prevent cases of cancers of the head and neck, Brawley said, in addition to its role fighting cervical cancer in women and genital warts in men.

Access to treatment is another major issue in avoiding cancer deaths, Brawley said. A substantial minority of cancer patients do not get the treatment they need, many times because of lack of insurance coverage.

More science needs to be done on other possible causes of cancer from environmental causes, such as air pollutants and chemicals in plastics, Brawley said.

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. Lance

    There really needs to be more cost-benefit analysis in these kinds of figures. Some of the tests for catching cancer early come at a tremendous cost-not just financially but sometimes they can even come with serious side-effects. Some argue that the financial cost is irrelevant and shouldn't even be considered. The reality though is we already choose daily to allow some deaths because the cost of preventing all deaths would be too much for society. For example if we wanted 0 traffic fatalities we could impose a 5 mph speed limit or ban cars. We could build bridges over every intersection and build huge walls to prevent all deaths from oncoming collisions. We could hook every person up to heart monitors and have an automatic alert system that sent ambulances it they detected the slightest problem. The cost of ensuring every single person dies at 100 of old age is having a life that revolves around nothing but staying alive. Certainly we can and should improve are chances of living to old age but those measures need to be reasonable and cost-effective.

    January 4, 2012 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • momoya

      Concern and dollars should be spent on prevention and quality of life. Cancer is a formidable opponent, but death is an eventuality for us all; why not spend time and resources figuring out how to keep humans healthier and happier up to the moment of death? Too often medical science prolongs life when it is at its most miserable–and for what? - a few more months or days of pain and drugged-vegetable existence? Let's figure out how to keep people healthier throughout their life, and let's figure out how to die well. And not just for the privileged few, either. Clean water and proper nutrition for all, I say, and death with dignity.

      January 4, 2012 at 18:29 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      There are both existing and promising, less expensive ways to fight cancer but they don't fit the picture painted by the FDA. There is a treatment for cancer using nano particles of gold injected into the blood stream, heated by RF (radio frequency) waves that will burn and kill cancer throughout the body without side effects to the patient, unlike chemo. We need to quit focusing on cost and instead focus on real cures. This is one, once its perfected and if the FDA doesn't take a century, put in place.

      January 4, 2012 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Lance – I completely agree. There are some clinical trials in existence using chemotherapy that claim to cure cancer. Awesome; but not awesome if the main side effect is a permanent rash requiring constant treatment over the whole of one's body. For some people, these choose death over a poor quality of life. I do hope that cures, like the one mentioned by mike, do become more mainstream and effective.

      January 4, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse |
    • jake1969

      On some levels I am in agreement, but "cost-effectiveness" being applied as a significant criteria in the health realm is very dangerous. There's a lot we don't know yet and the science is unclear when it comes to many treatments and alternatives. Obsession over cost-effectiveness is also what commonly leads to "panels" and so forth that can make reckless decisions on who gets care and who doesn't (and I'm not talking the so-called death panels). The push for cost-effectiveness is also leading to calls for boards/panels to dictate what procedures doctors can use and still be eligible for medicare and other financing means - ie, which directly removes the patient-doctor relation as the primary basis of decision-making.

      Some of the examples you note are rather extreme and I'd agree we can't go that far. And I do believe cost-effectiveness should be one of many criteria in health care decisions...but we should be very cautious and leary of it's potential ramifications. It can definitely lead to a "Brave New World" type scenario (ie, the book where people were automatically "put down" at the age of 60 because it was too costly for society to care for people over 60). Whereas the fact we can't build bridges everywhere is quite obvious, I would argue the health care setting involves far, far more grey areas...

      January 5, 2012 at 10:08 | Report abuse |
  2. government cheese

    Wait until rationing with ObamaCare takes hold.

    January 4, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • basketcase

      You're an idiot.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:18 | Report abuse |
    • c s

      We already have rationing of healthcare. Ask the 40+ million with no health insurance. Or maybe they do not count because they are mostly poor and everyone knows that the poor never get sick.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      Let me guess you voted for McCain and Palin. Allow me to say "Ha Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Apparently you don't review anyone voting record. John likes it when you hates people

      January 4, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • Johan S

      Under Obamacare you still get to choose a private healthcare provider. You still get to choose a private health insurer. All Obamacare does is provide the uninsured with the resources to purchase health insurance. They don't make healthcare decisions, the health insurance companies will do that (except they won't be allowed to have corporate death panels like they used to).

      January 4, 2012 at 18:31 | Report abuse |
    • serdich

      Lets ask the 3mln people who now have healthcare insures and work and study worry free...well you FAIL..Obamacare actually works.

      January 4, 2012 at 18:38 | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      As an oncologist I can assure you that we already have rationing. We do not all have equal access to health care. Not even close. And even those of us who do have health insurance experience rationing from the health insurance companies, whose CEOs earn tens of millions of dollars per year.

      January 4, 2012 at 19:40 | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      " Johan S

      Under Obamacare you still get to choose a private healthcare provider. You still get to choose a private health insurer. All Obamacare does is provide the uninsured with the resources to purchase health insurance. They don't make healthcare decisions, the health insurance companies will do that (except they won't be allowed to have corporate death panels like they used to). "

      Obamacare forces people with no health insurance to buy health insurance. I will not be able to afford it after the law comes into effect, unless I can find much better job! Even crappy insurance is $10k per year, here in michigan.

      January 4, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse |
  3. E

    that's stupid

    January 4, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sunflower

    Of course the numbers are still high... For a number of reasons. cost effectiveness of testing and diagnosis, cost of treatment, cost of drugs. Big pharma WANTS us to be sick and buy more meds, so they prevent the cures from being released. Beleive it..... It happens all the time. There is big money in the medical and pharmacuetical industries. If we were all well, they would go bankrupt overnight. Not going to happen. The U.S. doesn't allow many drugs and therapies that are successful in other countries... You think they have our best interests at heart? Think again. The almighty dollar rears it's ugly head once again. It's sickening.... Obamacare is just the tip of the iceberg.

    January 4, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Johnny B

      How's that tin foil hat fit you?

      January 4, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      sun: "The U.S. doesn't allow many drugs and therapies that are successful in other countries... You think they have our best interests at heart? Think again. The almighty dollar rears it's ugly head once again."

      You do see the contradiction here, right?

      If the "almighty dollar" is what controls, then why wouldn't the U.S. and "big Pharma" release and sell drugs in the U.S. that they sell elsewhere in the world? So they can lose money by restricting their customer base and having lower sales?

      Lol. Okay.

      "doesn't allow many drugs and therapies that are successful in other countries"

      Because those drugs and "therapies" don't meet the safety standards the U.S. sets out for medication.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
    • YeahOK

      I stopped reading at "Big pharma WANTS us to be sick and buy more meds" ...

      January 4, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Big pharma doesn't want us to be sick. They want us to think we are sick... the antidepressant, statin, osteoporosis meds are much overdone. Becomes near criminal making us think there's a bipolar epidemic in children.. the list goes on and on. People are self destructive with their smoking, overeating obesity, alcohol abuse. I don't want to be paying for their lifestyle with higher health insurance premiums or HMO restrictions on medical care to recoup the expenses imposed on us by diabetic gluttons.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:24 | Report abuse |
  5. USA2012

    cost-benefit analysis, until that happens to you or to your mother, then you'll change your tune. Look up Pancreatic Canser get the facts most people don't know they have it until it's too late. More research and testing need to be done period.

    January 4, 2012 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • yuri pelham

      once you get it, you enter the futile care algorithm composed of ineffective chemotherapy which provides false hope and needless suffering for most victims. Victims of the disease and of the medical establishment.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  6. basketcase

    Saying deaths from cancer haven't gone down enough is kind of pointless. Obviously everyone would love to have 0 deaths from cancer, but that's not going to happen any time soon. Any consistent improvement is good news.

    January 4, 2012 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CHRIST is the best!

    America is a Christian country 🙂

    January 4, 2012 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • yuri pelham

      No it's a culture of narcissism, a form of idolatry. Christianity is a facade. Look at how people celebrate Christmas ...stampeding into Walmart with their pepper spray and shopping lists.

      January 4, 2012 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
  8. Sky

    The headline for this article is really poor. Are there some who are saying since the cancer deaths are lower we are done. No I don't believe anyone is seriously saying this. Of course "some are saying not enough".

    January 4, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carl

      Other headlines considered by CNN for this article:
      "Cancer: How Much is Too Much?"
      "Living and Eatocracy: Cancer an Acquired Taste"
      "Opinion: Cancer Not for Everyone"

      January 4, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse |
  9. moe99

    I'm a 59 year old nonsmoker with lung cancer. I resent the fact that all lung cancer patients are presumed to have been smokers. Non smoking women are the fastest growing segment of lung cancer victims. There's more causing this than smoking. We need to remove that stigma and increase research in the area as lung cancer is the leading cancer in the US.

    January 4, 2012 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DanB

      excellent point. Thank you for mentioning that.

      January 4, 2012 at 19:17 | Report abuse |
  10. jon

    Shift some of that breast cancer research money over to cancers that kill more people...the pink ribbon is played out. Breast cancer is way down the list when it comes to deaths, guess our culture is still fixated on breasts.

    January 4, 2012 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      Breast cancer is 3rd in mortality only to lung and prostate cancer, and is 2nd in some cohorts:
      That hardly counts as "way down the list".

      It's a testament to early detection and improved treatment that the breast cancer numbers aren't worse.

      January 4, 2012 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
  11. Dr Pepper

    As a cancer researcher, I am trying to find ways to pit different cancers against each other. That way they eat each other up and leave the patient alone.

    January 4, 2012 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ancient Curse

      Sounds wonderful. As does some Dr. Pepper - for vim, vigor, and also vitality!

      January 4, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse |
  12. Chip McFarland

    Agree with Sunflower 100%, big pharma is the major reason cancer cure rates have not gone down more. If there was a cure (and there is) out there which did not make big money for big pharma, it would/will be blocked from coming on the market. Keep America sick is big pharma's motto, keep those paying customers coming back for more! No different than any other product market we have, keep those returning customers coming! And even if they die, there are plenty more where those came from. Otherwise we will be out of a job!!! Conflict of interest...I think so!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ancient Curse

    "Cancer deaths lower, but some say not enough."

    Who are the people saying "Yea, we have just the right amount of people dying from cancer. Yippee!"

    January 4, 2012 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. kevin

    Classic headline; thankffully we're not relying on CNN to do the cancer research. You mean some people really think it would be good if fewer people were dying of cancer?

    January 4, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Really?

    Really now? Reducing cancer fatalities isn't good enough? OK. YOU go cure it your own damn self. These professionals are doing their absolute best and saving lives and all you have to say is "They could have done better."?

    January 4, 2012 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. punkrscrnd

    @moe99 I agree with you. Most people do think that lung cancer patients must be smokers. I hope everything goes well for you. I, myself, am a 2 yr cancer survivor of cutaneous leiomyosarcoma. Yay me! My aunt, who is only 35, just finished chemo for breast cancer and is so far cancer free. I know it's a long shot and probably not going to happen in my lifetime, but I really hope that somewhere someone finds a cure regardless of cost. How can you put a price tag on someone's life? I know I wouldn't have wanted someone putting a price on mine.

    January 4, 2012 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Ken

    Got to ration health care. Young, potentially productive, future and current tax payers first and foremost need the best acutecand preventative care. Invest in the next generation like any successful species does... Pouring collective resources (tax dollars) into prolonging disabled geriatric lives makes no sense and is often not in the elderly,s best interest for quality of life but is too often done because it's easier to do something than not to and takes no real conversation – courage or planning on families part. Doctors and hosp get paid to do things...not to counsel families and patients when enough is enough.... talk about alternatives like comfort care and advance directives.

    January 5, 2012 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Caroline

    And yet the authorities still try to tell us that food additives are safe? How about getting all the fake garbage out of the food supply and then see what happens to cancer rates?

    January 5, 2012 at 04:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. top cancer symptoms

    Cancer deaths lower, but some say not enough-Lance – I completely agree and i want to say that we should spend more money for curing the cancer patient and research for completely cure able medicine.

    January 5, 2012 at 05:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. jake1969

    Environment and stuff like food additives need to be looked at much more closely. Smoking has always been a huge cause of cancer, but the percent of people who smoke in the US has plummeted over the last few decades. It's well under half of what it used to be. Yet, cancer rates only drop by 1%? It can't all be explained to increasing obesity or better detection. Something else is definitely going on. Rates should be dropping more than 1% over the last 10 years....I know there's a bit of a "lag" in the effect of reduced smoking given how many years it takes to develop, but rates have been dropping consistently for 3 decades now so we should be seeing larger drops in cancer rates by now.

    January 5, 2012 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. cmnz1980

    The cure has been around for over 50 years but for some reason it is illegal for a doctor in the United states to practice it. If you child was diagnosed with some from of cancer and you tried to treat them yourself with this therapy you could be arrested for child abuse. Its called the Gerson THerepy, look it up. Being illegal in this country just makes me believe even more that it really is a cure.

    January 5, 2012 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. W Bernard

    Early testing and available for all at that point is the lowest cost of treating cancer. It eliminates those who do not have it at that time of their lives but can go back later to revisit with another test in X years. If found at an early stage surgery is the first line of defense in may cases or radiation. Once it is in your body drugs are also the issue. I know of several well known expensive drugs that did not stop someones cancer. It seems to me that there is a lot of secrecy about effective cures and treatment, not necessarily from the doctors who I believe are trying but from the drug companies and their information. As consumers of these products we have a right to know what these drugs are doing and outside testing to see if they work. So much money is raised for cancer and I wonder where it is going. Who can make these companies come forth with accountability?

    January 5, 2012 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. WellnessDrive

    Healthy eating is what we all need. It's our choice of foods that is bogging us down to the point of sickness. More RAW fruits and vegis – over 50%.

    Lack of Vit D from sunshine is another factor. If supplement, use D3 with K2.
    Omega III and antioxidants are other essentials for our bodies.

    Stay away from processed foods – and definitely away from fast food. Yuk!

    Education not medication. Go on a WellnessDrive 🙂

    January 5, 2012 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. jvollman

    I am sure glad to learn that environment, e.g., the way we grow our food, toxins in the air, flouride in our water supply, and all the rest, have nothing to do at all with getting cancer. It's all individual life style.

    January 5, 2012 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Toxins

    It's a shame that pancreatic cancer rates are increasing. What a devastating disease. And it's even more frustrating that many cases could be prevented through diet. (Powerful video about this here: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/largest-study-ever/)

    January 6, 2012 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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