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September 19, 2018 | 4 minute read

Cancer Report: Progress but Millions Are Still Dying of Cancer, Research and Prevention Key

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) released its eighth annual report last week, which notes that more people than ever before are surviving a cancer diagnosis. But the report also highlights the sobering fact that an aging population in the United States means that more individuals will be diagnosed with cancer.

The number of new cases in the U.S. is estimated to rise from slightly over 1.7 million in 2018 to almost 2.4 million in 2035. In the U.S., cancer accounts for close to one of every four deaths. Worldwide, cancer is responsible for one of every six deaths. What is important is that many of these cancers are preventable.

Citing AICR and World Cancer Research Fund International research, the above report from AACR identifies the major preventable causes of cancer include obesity, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, exposure to ultraviolet rays, and tobacco use. In the United States, about 40 percent of the cancer cases are preventable – which means nearly 694,000 preventable cancers.

Aside from not smoking, AICR research shows that staying a healthy body weight is one of the most important conditions for lowering cancer risk. There is a strong evidence that being overweight or obese is a cause of many of the most common cancers, including postmenopausal breast, esophageal, and colorectal cancers.  The greater the extent of overweight and obesity that people have, the greater their risk of cancer.

In the United States, more than two in three adults are categorized as overweight or obese.

A critical issue hindering improvements in public health, as per the report, is the inability to communicate current research on avoidable cancer risk factors to the general public and non-implementation of interventions to minimize such risks. Surveys such as this one have found that most US adults remain unaware of the significant cancer risks associated with obesity and alcohol.

Supporting the findings of the report by the American Association for Cancer Research, a recent AICR survey also found that fewer than half of the Americans recognize that alcohol, processed meat, high amounts of red meat, low amounts of fruit and vegetable intake, and not enough physical activity all have clear links to cancer development. And only one in two Americans knows that obesity is a cause of cancer.

The AACR report also highlights the following:

– That tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths. This despite the fact that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has fallen to 14 percent, down from 42 percent in 1965, thanks to the impact of public education and policy initiatives.

– That advanced understanding of cancer and treatment has not benefited everyone equally. Cancer disproportionately affects certain segments of the population, including racial and ethnic minorities, patients of lower socioeconomic status, residents in certain geographic locations, and the elderly.

– While death rates for the four most commonly diagnosed U.S. cancers — breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate — have been declining for more than a decade, those for other forms of cancer have been increasing in recent years. These include the brain, liver, and uterine cancers.

– HPV vaccination could prevent nearly all cases of cervical cancer, as well as many cases of oral and anal cancer, but less than 50 percent of U.S. adolescents ages 13 to 17 are up-to-date with the recommended vaccination series.

– More than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2016, compared to just 3 million in 1971, and this number is projected to rise to 26.1 million by 2040. Despite this increasing number and fine-tuning of the system and perception one should expect, cancer survivors often face serious physical, emotional, and psychosocial challenges.

The report calls for increased funding of federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that conduct most research in the field.

For studies focusing on lifestyle and cancer, read about our latest grantees. (AICR does not receive federal funds; we rely on support from individuals.)

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