Health

Cancer, We’ve Got Your Number

Medical innovations, healthier behaviors may be paying off

Everywhere you turn, people are promising to cure cancer.

“Four Foods Better Than Chemo for Killing Cancer,” shouts one granola website.

Gym junkies remind everyone that an active lifestyle keeps cancer at bay. Holistic living advocates carry on about the virtues of cruciferous vegetables. Antioxidant groupies promise that brightly colored foods — blueberries and purple carrots, for example — will reduce cancerous inflammation, while nutritionists tout the benefits of extra virgin olive oil, which contains oleocanthol, a substance that reduces the risk of breast cancer.

Here’s the good news: This hodgepodge of advice may actually be doing some good. The most recent report in March from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 2003 to 2012, overall cancer death rates in the United States fell by 1.5 percent each year. This decline was true for both genders and was consistent for all major racial and ethnic populations.

The total number of cancer deaths has decreased about 13.5 percent in the last decade — a significant boon.

“The ongoing drop in rates of both new cases and death due from cancer for all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. is due to a combination of public health progress in prevention, screening, as well as advances in medical treatment,” Dr. Recinda Sherman, program manager at the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, told LifeZette.

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Many families, then, have been spared devastating losses.

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Three of the four major cancer incidence sites — prostate, lung, and colorectal — are in steep decline. The decline in lung cancer is especially significant.

“Tobacco control efforts have successfully contributed to lower rates of lung cancer — both incidence and mortality,” said Dr. Sherman. “Smoking rates declined about 21 percent between 2005 and 2015.”

But make no mistake — we still have a long way to go.

Dr. A. Blythe Ryerson, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said the numbers of deaths across different racial groups are disproportionate. “For example, black women still have a higher breast cancer death rate than white women. Efforts are underway to better understand the factors that contribute to differences in the cancer burden among various groups.”

Researchers say those in the lower economic classes need better health care — they also need to make better use of the medical care available to them to prevent and beat cancer.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”7 Ways to Keep Cancer Away” source=”http://www.mayoclinic.org”]Don’t use tobacco.|Eat a healthy diet.|Be physically active.|Protect yourself from the sun.|Get immunized.|Avoid risky behaviors.|Get regular medical care.[/lz_bulleted_list]

Still, there are more victories over cancer every day. Shelsi Stolworthy of Oxnard, California, was only 24 years old when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She had gone to the doctor because she had difficulty breathing — and discovered her right lung had partially collapsed. She had just gotten married the year before.

“It was shocking because cancer doesn’t run in my family, and I was healthy,” Stolworthy told LifeZette. Her doctors gave her eight cycles of chemotherapy, 17 treatments of radiation — and a clean bill of health in June 2007. “After I was done, I wasn’t really excited like I should be,” she said. “I probably felt subconsciously that my battle wasn’t over. I knew I wasn’t done.”

Sure enough, two months later, she experienced severe pain along the stem of her neck and began dry heaving. An MRI confirmed the worst — her cancer had metastasized, and she had developed a brain tumor.

Stolworthy had to cancel her enrollment in community college — for the second time — and doctors performed surgery to remove the tumor. Around Christmas that year, Stolworthy received word the tumor was growing back.

“That was probably the worst day of my life,” she admitted. The doctors decided to send her home to celebrate Christmas while they deliberated on the best course of action. After 24 treatments of radiation to the brain, more chemotherapy, and a stem cell transplant to rejuvenate her depleted blood supply, Stolworthy finally beat cancer.

“Looking back, it feels like a lifetime ago — like it was a different life,” she said. “I’m pretty shocked by what I went through. I don’t know how I could have done all that.”

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Cancer treatments and screenings continue to improve. Advances in immunotherapy are allowing doctors to use monoclonal antibodies — the immune system proteins that fight infection — in a variety of ways. Radioactive antibodies can deliver poison to tumors without harming healthy cells. They can also cause undiscovered tumors to glow under special cameras and aid in early diagnosis.

Additionally, the development of cancer prevention vaccines, such as the hepatitis B vaccine, can help reduce the incidence of cancer. More recently, the development of treatment vaccines are showing promise. Provenge is the first treatment vaccine on the market in the U.S. and has been proven to be effective in treating metastatic prostate cancer.

The improvements in cancer treatments have many positive outcomes — and one of the best is the decline in mortality rates among children with cancer.

“Although rates of childhood cancer are low, lifestyle factors do not play a major role in pediatric cancers as they do in adults,” said Dr. Sherman. “Rates of childhood cancer incidence have been increasing slightly, but mortality has been decreasing since the 1970s due to treatment advances, including the introduction of new chemotherapy drugs — some of them in the past decade.”

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