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Cancer death rate drops in the U.S.

The mortality rate for cancer fell 20.1% in the United States over a 35-year period, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle (JAMA, January 24, 2017). Deaths per 100,000 dropped from 240 in 1980 to 192 in 2014. With each passing decade, the overall mortality rate for neoplasms has fallen nationwide. The study analyzed the death records of approximately 19.5 million people who passed away from 29 types of cancer during the period. The deadliest cancers were tracheal, bronchial, and lung (5.7 million deaths); colon and rectal (2.5 million); breast (1.6 million); pancreatic (1.2 million); and prostate (1.1 million). Early diagnosis, more efficient treatment, and lower tobacco use are some of the factors singled out as related to this decline in the national cancer mortality rate. The study also calculated death rate trends in each of the 3,100 counties making up the 50 states. A more nuanced picture, featuring localized inequalities, emerges from this angle. In 160 counties – about 5% of the total – the cancer death rate trended upward from 1980 to 2014. In a few extreme cases, like in parts of the South, the figure hit almost 50%. “Such significant disparities among U.S. counties is unacceptable,” said epidemiologist and lead author Ali Mokdad, of the University of Washington. “Every person should have access to early screenings for cancer, as well as adequate treatment.” Some clusters of counties displayed high death rates for many types of tumors. Breast cancer is deadlier in the South and along the Mississippi River; liver cancer kills large numbers along the border between Texas and Mexico; and kidney cancer strikes hard in North and South Dakota, regions of West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Alaska, and Illinois. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease.