Cancer death rate down a third, but work remains

Cancer death rate down a third, but work remains

The death rate from cancer dropped 33% over the past three decades, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. The drop corresponds to an estimated 3.8 million deaths averted.

But cancer remains a major public health problem, and much work remains to keep lowering death rates and reduce racial disparities, as was discussed recently at a community conversation held at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

The ACS report, “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,” attributes the decline in cancer deaths to drops in smoking rates, improvements in cancer treatment and increases in early detection, such as through mammograms, pap smears, PSA tests and colonoscopies. HPV vaccinations also contributed to a sharp drop in cervical cancer rates – down 65% among women ages 20 to 24 from 2012 through 2019.

One concern outlined in the report is an increase in the rates of certain cancers, including breast cancer, uterine corpus cancer and prostate cancer, which rose 3% per year from 2014 through 2019. Another concern is the disruption of care, including cancer screenings, that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Biden reactivated the “cancer moonshot” last year. As part of that initiative, KUSM-W and several other groups sponsored a community conversation on Feb. 23.  Federal and state health officials, MSSC physicians, representatives from cancer support organizations and cancer survivors shared about their experiences and frustrations and provided resource updates.

Shaker Dakhil, MD, of Cancer Center of Kansas, spoke about some of the factors limiting access to care, including lack of insurance, lack of transportation and restrictive CMS rules. Others spoke about racial disparities in access to care and outcomes. For example, in 2018, Blacks had the highest cancer mortality rate at 169 per 100,000, compared with 150 per 100,000 for white people.

Biden wants to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and improve the experience of people and families living with and surviving cancer. Given the complexity of cancer and society, many experts say that’s an ambitious goal. But the steady drop in cancer death rates over the past three decades, along with emerging treatments and technologies, is raising hopes.

Cancer screening clinic set for May 6

Local dermatologists are conducting the annual Wichita Area Skin Cancer Screening Clinic on May 6 from 8 a.m. until noon. The free clinic, which will be held at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, 1010 N. Kansas, is in accordance with the American Academy of Dermatology’s “Spot Skin Cancer” program.

Dermatologists and their staff members will screen patients for evidence of skin cancer. No treatments will be conducted at the event. If a suspicious lesion is detected, a patient will be referred to his or her primary care physician in order to obtain a referral for treatment.