New Study Shows Continued Drop In Cancer Mortality Rates
The fight against cancer is far from over, however, outcomes for patients battling the disease continue to improve.
Figures from the American Cancer Society (ACS) show a 2.2% drop in cancer-related deaths from 2016 to 2017, the most recent time period for which figures are available. The decrease is the largest single-year decline ever recorded. From 1991 to 2017, the cancer mortality rate is down 29%, translating to more than 2.9 million deaths avoided. A major factor in the decline is decreasing lung cancer death rates, down about 5% per year from 2013 to 2017.
Kathy Deng, MD, a hematology and oncology specialist, at The Cancer Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, said there are several factors helping to lower cancer rates. Mortality rates of lung cancer, which is still the leading cause of cancer deaths, have declined due to the use of immunotherapy treatments. Also, cancer institutes such as those run by Catholic Health Services (CHS) at Good Samaritan Hospital, Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and St. Francis in Roslyn offer patients easier access to the latest cancer treatments.
For more information on CHS’s cancer services including its cancer centers visit chscancer.org
Below, Dr. Deng shares her thoughts on the ACS report, new tools in treating cancer and the role CHS plays in assisting residents to win their battles against the disease.
Q: What are the most important factors leading to the decline in cancer mortality rates?
Dr. Deng: Treatment has gotten much better. In 2015, immunotherapy was introduced and this new class of medication has helped tremendously with lung cancer and melanomas. The drop in mortality rates with these cancers has contributed greatly to the overall drop in deaths related to cancer.
Q: How do the immunotherapy medications work?
Dr. Deng: The immunotherapy medications activate the body’s T cells, allowing the immune system to identify cancer cells and kill them. Normally, cancer cells hide from the immune system. Immunotherapy medications are used to battle several types of cancer including lung, melanoma, kidney, liver, cervical and certain types of cancers that express micro-satellite instability. Most common in colon cancer but seen in other cancers as well, micro-satellite instability is a mutation where the cell’s mechanism of fixing mistakes in the DNA is not working. When a cell is unable to fix the mistakes, it can become cancerous.
Q: How important are CHS cancer centers in treating patients with cancer.
Dr. Deng: Our cancer centers are vital. We are able to see patients and connect them with other physicians the same day. Also, all patient information is in one center, and we are able to work together as a team to quickly develop a customized plan of action for each patient.
Q: Do you feel cancer mortality rates will continue to decline in the future?
Dr. Deng: We will continue to see further declines in cancer mortality rates because the technology with screenings has vastly improved. Also, the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is leading to reduced rates of cervical cancer. Another major factor in the decrease in cancer mortality rates is low-dose CAT scans that check for lung cancer.