Record-Setting Drop in the U.S. Cancer Death Rate Tied to Progress on Lung Cancer
A new report from The American Cancer Society has identified the largest single-year decline in the U.S. cancer death rate to date, likely spurred by new treatments and reductions in smoking.
The rate of Americans dying from cancer fell by 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, marking 26 consecutive years of a decreasing cancer death rate since it peaked in 1991 at 215 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
Overall, the cancer death rate decreased 29 percent between 1991 and 2017 — amounting to 2.9 million fewer deaths than at the peak rate — The Washington Post reported. But while the death rate usually fell by around 1.5 percent year to year, the 2.2 percent drop in mortality in 2017 was the highest going back to 1930, when the American Cancer Society began keeping records.
"What is really driving that is the acceleration in the decline of mortality for lung cancer, and the reason that is encouraging is because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, causing more deaths in the U.S. than breast, colorectal cancer and prostate cancers combined," Rebecca Siegel, lead author and scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, told CNN. Cancer is second only to heart disease when it comes to all leading causes of death in the U.S. and experts believe lung cancer accounts for more than 25 percent of all cancer deaths.
The report found that the lung cancer death rate for men has fallen 51% since 1990 and 26% for women since 2002. This decline has accelerated in recent years, the authors noted, with annual reductions in the death rate climbing from 2 percent per year to around 4 percent.
In fact, the progress around lung cancer is such that if you removed it from the data, the 2.2 percent drop from 2016 to 2017 would be only 1.4 percent, Siegel told Reuters.
The authors said one explanation for the declining death rate for lung cancer is that smoking rates in the U.S. have also continued to fall, reaching a record low in 2018. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer and is associated with 80-90% of lung cancer deaths in the U.S.
We're also getting better at finding and treating cancers at any stage, the authors of the report pointed out.
This includes improvements to diagnostic tools, surgery procedures and radiotherapy, as well as the impact of new drugs, USA Today reported. For instance, the decline in the death rate for melanoma accelerated from between 1-3 percent per year to 7 percent for people aged 20-64 after two new therapies hit the market in 2011, The New York Times reported.
Not all the news is positive, however, as the authors found that progress for colorectal, prostate and breast cancers has slowed despite overall decreases since their peaks. Many of these cancers can often be detected early via screening tools, Siegel noted.
The authors suggested that the prevalence of obesity-linked cancers — following the U.S.'s rising obesity rates — as well as racial and state-based disparities in risk factor exposure for preventable cancers and healthcare access may be driving the slow-downs.
"It's a reminder that increasing our investment in the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions, as well as basic and clinical research to further advance treatment, would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer," Siegel said in a press release.
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What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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