The number of Americans who are dying of cancer has dropped by 25 percent since 1991, the peak year for cancer deaths, says the American Cancer Society in its annual report.
Although the rate of people being diagnosed with cancer has remained steady, better treatments and screenings means people with cancer are living longer, the report posits. At the same time, fewer people smoking means lung cancer rates have fallen.
The ACS estimates that almost 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and 600,000 will pass away from it.
“The continuing drops in the cancer death rate are a powerful sign of the potential we have to reduce cancer’s deadly toll,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the group.
“From 1991 to 2014, the overall cancer death rate dropped 25 percent, translating to approximately 2,143,200 fewer cancer deaths than would have been expected if death rates had remained at their peak,” the report reads.
“In 2017, 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States.”
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease. About 40 percent of American men and 37 percent of women will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes.
The report finds that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, saved lives from cancer.
The Act obliges insurance companies to cover the full cost of many cancer screenings, including colonoscopies and mammograms. It also provided health insurance to 20 million people who had not been previously covered.
The law particularly helped minorities, the report said.
“Although the cancer death rate was 15 percent higher in blacks than in whites in 2014, increasing access to care as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may expedite the narrowing racial gap; from 2010 to 2015, the proportion of blacks who were uninsured halved, from 21 percent to 11 percent, as it did for Hispanics (31 percent to 16 percent),” the report reads.
“Over the past three decades, the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined has increased 20 percentage points among whites and 24 percentage points among blacks.”
Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer at the American Society for Clinical Oncology, agreed.
“One big question is how the next administration and Congress will capitalize on today’s momentum,” Schilsky said.
“Upcoming decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, as well as funding for the National Cancer Institute, will have a big influence on the pace of progress for patients well into the future.”