The American Cancer Society produces three major publications each year that provide in-depth cancer statistics for the United States:

  • Cancer Statistics: Estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the U.S. each year, which are among the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world. Published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, this article is meant especially for clinicians.
  • Cancer Facts & Figures: A companion to the Cancer Statistics article, this consumer-friendly report, published annually since 1952, also includes the projected numbers of new cancer cases and deaths for the publication year. A unique feature of these publications is their projections of the number of cancer cases and deaths expected in each state and in the nation in the current year.
  • Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer: An annual update of cancer incidence, mortality, and trends in the United States that is a collaborative effort among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

Ahmedin Jemal PhD PhotoIn this interview, Ahmedin Jemal, D.V.M., Ph.D., vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society, gives insights into what the key takeaways are from this year’s statistical publications.

Q. Across all three of these publications, what do you think is the most important or telling statistic that the public should be aware of?

A. Cancer death rates continue to decrease in the United States because of prevention (tobacco control) and improved detection and treatments. However, the decrease could be accelerated by fully applying what we know in cancer prevention and control in all segments of the population.

Q. The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer reports on the progress made compared with past years. What are the most significant improvements noted in the 2013 report?

A. The 2013 annual report showed continued progress in reducing cancer death rates overall – from 2001 to 2010, death rates for all cancers combined decreased on average 1.8% per year among men and 1.4% per year among women.

Q. What issues have seen the least amount of improvement and why?

A. There has been little progress in reducing deaths rates or in improving survival rates for many specific types of cancers, including cancers of the pancreas and liver. In fact, death rates continued to increase for these cancers in part because of the obesity epidemic (for both cancers) and, for liver cancer, high prevalence of chronic hepatitis C virus infections in the 1970-80s due to intravenous drug use. There have also been limited breakthroughs in developing successful treatment for these cancers and many other cancers, including lung, esophagus, and stomach.

Notably, the report also highlighted the high prevalence – greater than 30% – of comorbidity (multiple chronic diseases) among cancer survivors 65 and older and its impact on survival. The report underscored that the number of cancer survivors will continue to increase because of the aging and growth of the population as well as improved treatment, and that there is a need for the development of better health systems for the coordination of care for these survivors.

Q. The Cancer Facts & Figures 2014 report shows that cancer incidence and death rates vary widely across states. Why is this?

A. This is largely because of differences in the prevalence of risk factors – such as smoking – and the availability and use of early detection and treatment services – such as colonoscopy and anti-cancer drugs.

Q. What have been the most significant changes over time in the most common cancer types in men and in women?

A. During the last 10 years (2001-2010) for which mortality data is available, death rates declined for 11 of the 17 most common cancers in men (including lung, prostate, colon and rectum) and for 15 of the 18 most common cancers in women (lung, breast, and colon and rectum). Notably, these decreases in general involved all major racial and ethnic groups.

Q. For the first time, the American Cancer Society published a special analysis of childhood and adolescent cancer statistics as part of the Cancer Statistics and Cancer Facts & Figures publications. What are the major takeaways from these numbers?

A. The major takeaways from this report are the substantial progress that has been made in reducing the suffering and deaths from childhood cancers and the challenges that remain in fighting these cancers.

Q. What do all three reports point to as the most important steps every one of us can take to lower our risk of getting cancer in our lifetime?

A. First, quit smoking if you are a current smoker and do not start to smoke if you are not. Second, maintain a healthy body weight by engaging in regular physical activity and by consuming a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources. Third, if you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption to no more than 1 drink per day if you are a woman and 2 drinks per day if you are a man. Fourth, avoid or minimize harmful sun exposure by staying in shelter between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., by wearing wide brim hats or clothing, and by applying sunscreen of at least SPF 30; and fifth, stay current with your screening according to American Cancer Society recommendations.

Q. Lastly, but importantly, what do the reports tell us about the areas of research that could have the most significant impact in cancer prevention (and/or treatment)?

A. In the short term I think research on how best to apply the existing knowledge in cancer prevention and control across all populations could have the most significant impact in accelerating the reduction in cancer death rates. However, we need more research to identify risk factors and discover early detection methods and treatment for various cancers to sustain and further accelerate the progress in cancer death rates.

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