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Why More People Are Surviving Cancer

By |2018-08-21T05:52:31-04:00February 1st, 2017|Categories: Cancer|Tags: |

Over the past few years, the cancer community has been encouraged that our ability to fight cancer seems to improve by the day. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that from 1991 to 2012 (the most current data available), the combined cancer death rate for men and women decreased a remarkable 23 percent.

There are more than 100 types of cancer, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for this decline. However, several factors have certainly had a major impact.

Cancer is most treatable when it is detected at an early stage. Advances in mammography, including new 3-D mammograms, allow us to detect more cases of breast cancer earlier. Similarly, studies have shown that longtime smokers can benefit from lung cancer screenings with lose-dose computer tomography (CT scans). The scans can detect small tumors that are often not visible on conventional X-rays, allowing lung cancer to be treated earlier.

Advanced Treatments that Make a Difference

Traditionally, chemotherapy drugs have acted on the entire body, attacking cancer but with the potential of causing injury to healthy tissue. Newer types of chemotherapy target specific types of cancer based on genetic mutations, without harming normal cells.

Better surgical techniques and radiation therapy have certainly contributed to the decline in cancer deaths. Techniques such as robotic surgery and intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) allow even more precise destruction of tumors.

Some of the most exciting recent advanced have come in the area of immunotherapy, which helps the body’s own immune system destroy cancer cells. In essence, it turns off a tumor’s ability to protect itself, allowing the immune system to attack cancer as it would any infection, like a common cold.

In addition to better treatments, we’ve made great strides in addressing problems that make cancer care more difficult. Advances in techniques for pain control, for example, can significantly improve a patient’s ability to tolerate cancer treatments.

I also believe that a greater overall awareness of good health has played a role in the decline in cancer deaths. For example, we’re making historic progress in stamping out cigarette smoking. The smoking rates among U.S. adults dropped from 25.5 percent in 1990 to 16.8 percent in 2014, a decline that almost certainly has had an impact on lung cancer deaths.

While the fight against cancer is likely to continue throughout our lifetimes, we are more hopeful than ever that the positive trends we’ve seen in cancer survival will continue.

hematologist and oncologist in freehold njBhavesh Balar, MD is a board-certified ­­­hematologist and oncologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center where he also serves as chairman of the hospital’s Cancer Committee. He is also a medical director at Regional Cancer Care Associates in New Jersey.  Dr. Balar can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.

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