Cancer Mortality Rates Experience Largest Drop in Recorded History


Of the 2.8 million deaths reported in 2017, 21% of them were cancer related. Although this is a large number, new information presented in the American Cancer Society’s annual report affirms that this is actually less than normal.
In 2017 alone, cancer mortality rates dropped 2.2%; the largest single year drop in recorded history. This drop is only a small part of a larger overall decline that’s been going on since 1991. Between then and 2017, cancer mortality rates have been reduced by a staggering 29%, which translates to a total 2.9 million deaths avoided.
One of the main reasons for this drop is improvements in lung cancer therapies and an overall decline in smoking. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, killing nearly 160,000 people a year. Therefore, any progress with Lung cancer will automatically impact overall mortality rates because of how many people are affected by it.
The discovery and use of T-cells have also been influential to the 2.2% drop. T-cells are a type of white-blood cell that can destroy abnormal cells in the body – similar to many other white-blood cells. However, these cells are different in that scientists have been able to harness their abilities through a therapy known as CAR-T. This therapy involves removing the T-cells from a person’s bloodstream and genetically engineering them to target and kill cancer cells. What’s amazing about CAR-T is that these cells effectively kill cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells; something that chemotherapy does not do.
Unfortunately, CAR-T is patient specific. It only works with specific cancers, and cannot destroy solid tumors. Regardless, this therapy has aided many people with different types of cancer and contributed to the overall cancer mortality rate drop. Scientists continue to research T-cells with the hope that they will one day be able to cure other types of cancer, essentially creating a “one size fits all” cancer approach.
Not all types of cancer have declining mortality rates, though. For colorectal, prostate, and breast cancers, progress has slowed. It is speculated that an increase in obesity in the United States has contributed to this, among other factors. Although doctors have been able to develop new methods of fighting these cancers, their positive effects are essentially cancelled out as the obesity epidemic continues to rise.
Obesity can lead to cancer by impacting immune system function, hormone levels, cell growth, and proteins in the body. As the American Cancer Society explains, “Being overweight or obese is clearly linked to an overall increased risk of cancer.” However, they also add that, “more research is needed to better define the links between body weight and cancer.” The organization estimates that obesity causes about 8% of cancers in the United States, and leads to 7% of all cancer deaths.
Hopefully, the drop in 2017 will set a precedent for the years to come. It is expected that cancer mortality rates will continue to go down in the years ahead, though it is not clear exactly how obesity and unhealthy habits will impact this drop moving forward. Although many things are unknown, it is certain that scientists will continue to research and discover new ways to fight cancer until cancer mortality rates reach 0%.