Not to be a downer at the start of the new year, but might it be that all the headlines, news reports, and tweets this week about a decline in cancer death rates in 2017 were just a little too exuberant?
“U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration,” President Trump tweeted Thursday morning after reading the headlines.
The trend is encouraging: Since the early 1990s, death rates are down 51% for men with lung cancer, 40% for women with breast cancer, and 52% for men with prostate cancer, according to the new report from the American Cancer Society. The decline in overall cancer mortality from 2016 to 2017 was the biggest one-year drop ever recorded (though it almost certainly had nothing to do with anything the Trump administration did in its first year in office).
When will reporters begin getting the story right the first time? What Americans hear is: expensive new therapies lead to a drop in cancer rates. The truth, which no one hears because no one reads these second-day stories, is: public health measures like reducing smoking and obesity rates are the best way to make a major dent in cancer incidence and mortality rates.
Exactly. ACS wants to be positive, media want a good story, and the public never gets the second-line truth. It has become a principle of manipulating media: push the hype because follow-up is weak. Apply this to everything from politics to healthcare to business.
In the case of lung cancer, the drop in death rate is heavily dependent on the increase in new cancer therapies. While the drop in smoking rates years ago likely does influence the drop in lung cancer deaths, 2/3 of new lung cancer patients occur in non-smokers, and 20% of new cases occur in never smokers. In fact, the lung cancer death rate in young neversmoker females is actually increasing. The reduction in lung cancer deaths is disproportionately larger than the reduction in smoking rates. Please don’t let the stigma of smoking cloud your understanding of the very real difference these new therapies have made in lung cancer survival.
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