By John M. Lyons, III, MD, FACS
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reported the largest one year drop in cancer mortality ever recorded in the United States. This is tremendous news, and I wanted to take a moment to outline how and why these trends have occurred.
While these statistics are the result of multiple factors at work, they mostly reflect improvements made in the four most common cancer types seen in the country: lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. The ACS has acknowledged years of public awareness campaigns like smoking cessation in addition to early detection programs, like the Cancer Center’s Prevention on the Go, as part of the solution. However, advances in treatment have played a large part as well.
One of the most dramatic treatment advances is in the case of melanoma skin cancer, which has benefited significantly from the development of new classes of medications. These drugs were just FDA-approved in 2011, and they have already resulted in the mortality rate for melanoma dropping by 7% between 2013 and 2017. Equally noteworthy is that this improved death rate in melanoma has occurred despite the fact that the number of people diagnosed with melanoma continues to rise every year. In other words, although more people are being diagnosed with melanoma every year, fewer people are dying from it.
These national trends have been realized in the state of Louisiana as well. The Louisiana Tumor Registry reports that mortality rates from cancer decreased by 3% in 2015 and by 4% in 2016. While the treatment advances have certainly impacted Louisiana as well, there are other unique exciting factors at work in our own state that I would like to point out.
Mortality rates in Louisiana dropped by 3% in 2015 and 4% in 2016.
At the state level, a collaborative initiative called Taking Aim at Cancer, which Mary Bird Perkins is proud to be a part of, has been established to improve early detection, align policies, and practices amongst those who treat and diagnose cancer. Its mission is to bring together leaders across sectors in healthcare, business, government, community, advocacy, philanthropy to work toward the common goal of improving cancer outcomes in Louisiana. Another major accomplishment was the Department of Health’s ability to reform drug pricing resulting in many more Louisianans receiving treatment for Hepatitis C – a viral infection that causes liver cancer.
While there is still much work to be done, it is worth taking a moment of pause to recognize where we have come so that we can continue to focus on the future.