What do the American Cancer Society’s latest figures reveal about fight against cancer?

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The cancer death rate in the past 25 years in the U.S. is steadily decreasing.  

That’s according to the American Cancer Society.

But what do the numbers really reveal about the fight against cancer?

The recent figures released by ACS show the cancer death rate for men and women fell 27 percent in 25 years.

That’s about 1.5 percent a year — nearly three million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred.

“It may not be sufficient, but what does it tell us, it tells us our efforts of prevention, that is reducing smoking rates in the U.S., efforts of early detection through pap smears through colonoscopy, our efforts to come up with new drugs and treatments for cancer, it’s working” explained Dr. Charles Fuchs, Director of Yale Cancer Center.

Still keeping cancer at bay is challenging.      

Dr. Fuchs explained, “As the population of the U.S. gets older, we’re seeing more cancer, so it’s likely cancer will be the number one cause of mortality in the U.S.”

The report said while one quarter of all cancer deaths is due to lung cancer, the rate of lung cancer deaths declined among men by 48 percent and 23 percent for women from 2002 to 2016. 

Which underscores the importance of the science-based work going on in laboratories across the country.

Noted Yale researcher and lung cancer specialist Dr. Roy Herbst said, “We’re trying actually in this very lab to figure out why do people who don’t smoke get lung cancer. When they get that lung cancer, what are the mechanisms that cause that cancer to grow? And we’re actually trying to find new drugs or combinations to treat it.” 

Targeted therapies are now available across the board, including immunotherapy. It triggers the immune system to kill cancer cells. But that has been formidable for lung cancer patients.    

Dr. Herbst said, “It really only works very well in about 20 percent of patients, one out of five. So, we’re trying to figure out is what’s happening with the rest of the patients? What’s causing the cancer to be resistant to the immunotherapy?  What are the new drugs or the combinations we can do?”

It was the first day of a clinical trial at Smilow Cancer Hospital for former smoker Arlene McDevitt. “I’m excited, very excited,” she said.

She added, “It’s kinda like putting your immune system, fill it with rocket fuel because that’s what it’s going to do. It’s going to try and kill the cancer cells.” 

Arlene has stage four lung cancer. 

“I’m going to beat it, I know it. I know it,” she said.

A battle cry shared by all in the midst of the ongoing crusade against cancer.

The American Cancer Society 2019 report also revealed that rates of new cases grew for melanoma, thyroid, endometrial and pancreatic cancer. 

Dr. Fuchs said taking the same approach on prevention, early detection, treatment and research in all those cancers could make a huge difference.

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