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Cancer Mortality Rates Hit 30-Year Low

The U.S. cancer death rate has dropped by one-third in the past 30 years, according to a report cited by The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

What’s going on: “The American Cancer Society said Thursday that changes in preventive measures and screening in the past decade drove important trends in U.S. cancer incidence and outcomes. Cervical cancer rates dropped 65% from 2012 to 2019 among women in their early 20s after a generation of young women were vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, for the first time.”

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease.
  • However, a decline in the use of a prostate-cancer test, the PSA, likely led to an increase in late-stage diagnoses of the disease, “with the highest incidence and mortality among Black men,” according to the report, published in the medical journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Why it’s important: Reasons for the decline in cancer death rates include better early detection and innovative new immunotherapies.

  • Immunotherapy drugs from manufacturers such as GSK PLC and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. “harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer—generally with fewer side effects than other therapies,” according to another Journal piece (subscription).

Great gains: Some of the most significant improvements in outcome have been in cervical cancer, and a main reason is the human papillomavirus vaccine, Merck Co.’s Gardasil and GSK’s Cervarix.

  • “The Food and Drug Administration approved the first HPV vaccine in 2006 for girls and women ages 9 to 26. The youngest in that group are now adults, and cervical cancer rates for women in their early 20s have dropped more than expected from screening alone.”

More screening urged: Black men could benefit from increased use of the PSA test, according to the ACA’s report.

  • “Prostate cancer mortality rates are two to four times higher for Black men compared with those in other groups.”
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