Cancer is the worst diagnosis a doctor can give, or is the tide changing? While an estimated 1 in 3 Americans will develop cancer, the prognosis of this once fatal disease has changed over the years. In February, 2006, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released a report which shows that, according to their most recent data, the number of American cancer deaths dropped from 2002 to 2003. (Note, there is a normal lag time before cancer data is considered official, thus the lag between the 2003 records and the current report).
This finding is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that Americans are living longer than before and we have a much larger population of senior citizens. While America’s aging population resulted in a higher number of actual deaths from cancer, the death rate has been dropping, largely due to early detection, prevention, and better treatment options, according to John Seffrin, PhD, American Cancer Society chief executive officer.
Put another way, since the incidence of cancer increases as we age, it stands to reason that a group of 100 older citizens, say between 70-80 years of age, will have more cases of cancer than a group of 100 younger Americans, for instance, between 20-30 years of age. Therefore, as the population at large grows older, we should expect a higher total number of cancer cases. On the other hand, the rate of death from cancer (the percentage of people with cancer who eventually died as a result of this disease) actually dropped as a result of medical advances and early detection. By getting recommended cancer screenings, many have turned a once uniformly fatal diagnosis into a short-term ‘detour’ on their long and happy road of life.
What is so remarkable about this current report is that for the first time, the balance between the higher number of cancer cases (seen as the population ages) and the dropping rate of death from cancer has finally tipped in favor of life, and the total number of deaths due to cancer fell during this study period.
Experts predict that in 2006, we should expect to see another drop in actual deaths. However, we still have a long way to go. An estimated 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2006, and another 565,000 will die, according to the authors of Cancer Facts & Figures. Fortunately, screening tests can help detect cancer in its early and curable stages in several major cancers, such as in breast, cervical, colon, and rectal cancers.
ACTION POINT: See your doctor regularly and take advantage of early cancer detection examinations and tests. Doing so can save your life!
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