Death Rates from Cancer Continue to Drop, Some Types Can Be Prevented

Faced with an abundance of cancer stories in the news and our own personal experiences with cancer, we may fear that there’s a growing “epidemic” of the disease.

Not so. A new report says that overall, deaths from cancer are continuing to decline, as they have for nearly two decades.

The report from four leading cancer organizations covers the years 2000–2009. Over the same period, the incidence (rate of new cases) dropped in men and held steady in women, although it has increased slightly in children.

While the trend is encouraging, says Dana-Farber President Edward J. Benz Jr., MD, much more could be done to save lives. “People are surviving longer and we are getting better at preventing some cancers,” said Benz. “But we’re not taking advantage of all the ways to detect cancers at an early stage when they can be the most curable.”

The report noted that cancers caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) can be prevented with a vaccine. These cancers include cervical, as well as cancers of the mouth, throat, anus, and vulva. However, among adolescents there is a very low rate of vaccination against HPV.

“We are seeing a large number of patients with HPV-associated head and neck cancer and these patients are relatively young, are typically non-smokers, and quite often have children,” says Robert I. Haddad, MD, chief of Dana-Farber’s Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Center. “HPV is a cause of many cancers, so it is really important to support endeavors to vaccinate.

“There is a misconception that only girls should be vaccinated and that is the wrong approach,” he adds. “We strongly believe that both boys and girls should be vaccinated against HPV.”