Exploring the decrease in U.S. cancer deaths

A decline in cancer deaths helped boost overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2018, according to federal data. Epidemiologist Timothy Rebbeck discussed the trend in a February 21, 2020 Q&A in the Harvard Gazette.

Rebbeck, Vincent L. Gregory, Jr. Professor of Cancer Prevention and director of the Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the incidence of certain cancers is decreasing, including lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers, driven by declining smoking rates. Melanoma, which used to be “essentially a death sentence,” is now very treatable thanks to new therapeutics. Cervical cancer death rates are also declining because of HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccination, early detection, and molecular screening. For other cancers, such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer, mortality rates “continue to be difficult,” Rebbeck said.

Overall, prevention and early detection is key to reducing cancer deaths, he said.

Read the Harvard Gazette article: Drop in cancer deaths lifts U.S. life expectancy