The Cheerful Oncologist

Cancer Death Rates Drop Again

Death rates from cancer continue to fall in the United States, dropping more than 2 percent per year from 2002 through 2004, cancer experts reported on Monday.

They found important declines in deaths from lung, prostate and colorectal cancers in men, as well as in breast and colon cancer among women. Lung cancer deaths were still on the rise among women but this increase slowed, according to the report.

We’re always grateful to hear such encouraging news from medical statisticians, but how can we use this information in our daily lives? Perhaps it would help to first remind ourselves of the continuing tragedy of cancer deaths compared to more publicized expirations.

The number of Americans who die each year from cancer, according to the news story, is 560,000. Let me repeat it in longhand – five hundred and sixty thousand individual Americans per year. This sum is more than all of the American battle deaths from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. Cancer is a magnificent killer of humans, from the youngest to the oldest, and therefore we should celebrate any good news on our ability to reduce its deadly grip. How are we accomplishing this?

“The significant decline in cancer death rates demonstrates important progress in the fight against cancer that has been achieved through effective tobacco control, screening, early detection, and appropriate treatment,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said in a statement.

The decline in the death rate is a major accomplishment and should be trumpeted from the rooftops. It is the result of countless hours of arduous and tedious work, done by patients, their spouses, their relatives and their doctors and nurses. Let me praise just a few of the champions in this fight:

-to smokers who agree to try a stop-smoking class, or take the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist varenicline, which has a 44% success rate in breaking the habit…

-to all women who decide it’s time to get a digital mammogram…

-to those patients who have their recommended colonoscopy (it’s not so bad – mine is coming up soon and I ain’t scared of it; in fact, to quote a certain French soldier,“I fart in your general direction,” so to speak)…

-to the indefatigable workers of health care, who try so hard to meet the needs of those living with cancer, who think, think, think about how to exploit the Byzantine inner workings of the cancer cell to bring it grievous physiological harm, who sit quietly and listen to the stories of sweet and lovely people fatally afflicted with a disease they did nothing to deserve…

Thank you. May you awaken refreshed and steeled to the tasks of the day, and may you retire tonight satisfied that your efforts brought the best to those who hunger for your unique gifts.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Briggs
    December 18, 2007

    The decline in the death rate is a major accomplishment and should be trumpeted from the rooftops. It is the result of countless hours of arduous and tedious work, done by patients, their spouse, their relatives and their doctors and nurses. Let me praise just a few of the champions in this fight:

    I join you in praising the champions! Here is hoping and praying that if a decline can be maintained that one day deaths will go down to zero!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  2. #2 Ben
    December 18, 2007

    Its mother was a hamster! And its father smelt of elderberries!

  3. #3 Scott S.
    December 18, 2007

    Bless you for a truly wonderful post.

    I am very glad that you mentioned the patient; too often we are just the nameless soldiers being mowed down as we hit the beaches. We are the ones who suffer sometimes terribly from this cursed disease.

    I’ve been fighting my leukemia for over nine years. It is an incurable but indolent disease. My life has not been terribly compromised until a year and a half ago, but it has progressed in spite of treatment. It is a constant source of worry and concern. It is doubtful I will see my sixtieth birthday, but at least I made it into my fifties.

    I have gone through one clinical trial and may do another, since nothing is available to cure me.

    I’m also glad you recognized the nurses and other healthcare workers who do so much of the day-to-day care. When I was hospitalized during treatment with neutropenic fever, I was quite out of it for several days. Also, the patient’s family is important to act as a go-between and cheerleading section. My wife nursed me for one month while I slowly recovered, and gained back the 30 pounds I lost in the ordeal.

    I know one day all cancers will be curable. It is this generation which is most heavily engaged in this battle, and the one before and the one to come.

    To end the suffering and premature death from cancer will indeed be a blessing. It will also be a boon to the economy since people such as me will actually be able to work the last 10 or 20 years of their working life, during their prime earning years, instead of being sometimes out of the workforce, depending upon others.

    Again, sincere thanks for this post.

  4. #4 Macnerdzcare
    December 19, 2007

    the drop in cancer death rates is of course due to modern medicine mainly and improved early diagnostic procedures and equipments.

  5. #5 laurasf
    December 21, 2007

    I’m not convinced that the drop in death rates from some cancers isn’t a shell game to make everyone feel better, and to keep the donations coming.

    Better detection of early disease which might never actually grow and kill someone, like DCIS in elderly patients, and throwing them into the “cured of cancer” mix hides the true story: that there is no improvements in outcome for many common late stage cancers.

    When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I wasn’t too concerned, because I actually thought it was all curable these days. Well, I might or might not be cured, but it took me a while to understand the potential gravity of the diagnosis.

  6. #6 Observer
    December 22, 2007

    Doctors and nurses, indeed. Hear hear! But don’t forget the vigilant dosimetrists, radiation therapists, physicists, and technicians who all bring a specialized skill set to the table.

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