Edited to add: During October each year, people all over the country research, raise money and pay special attention to breast cancer. If you or someone you love is dealing with breast cancer, go check out my friend Nicole McLean's blog My Fabulous Boobies. It is a great resource for people dealing with breast cancer and those who love them.
Posted by Pooja Sohoni
October is breast cancer awareness month, which kicks off 31 days of marches, fundraisers and campaigns across the country. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in America, with over 230,000 new cases diagnosed in 2014. However, cancer can develop in any part of the body at any age. According to the CDC, cancer is the second-highest cause of death in the United States. In 2014, there were over 1.6 million new cases and nearly 600,000 deaths.
For the past few decades, more money has been poured into cancer research, focusing on screening, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Over time, scientists have discovered much about what influences risk for developing certain cancers—from smoking to radiation to HPV—and as a result, we have seen rates decline in these areas. For other cancers, however, rates have been increasing with no sign of abating.
Using data from Cancer.gov, HealthGrove analyzed trends in new cases and deaths for 23 major cancers. They looked at these trends through a historical lens to see what events and behavioral changes could be influencing the cancer burden in America.
#23. Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in America, with over 200,000 new cases estimated in 2015. The vast majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking tobacco, which exposes the lungs to harmful carcinogens. Although we have known about the dangers of smoking since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, cases still ramped up well into the 1970s and 1980s. Three major factors contributed to this delay: first, people were reluctant to accept the dangers of smoking; second, it typically takes years of heavy smoking for lung cancer to develop; and third, smoking is extremely addictive, so even those who wanted to quit often could not. Fortunately, with a decrease in smoking rates and widespread public health messaging, we have seen both incidence and mortality rates decline since the early 1990s.
#22. Colon Cancer
Percent change in incidence: down 35.5%
Percent change in mortality: down 47.7%
Colon cancer screening is recommended for adults over the age of 50, which is when many polyps—both cancerous and non-cancerous—start to form in the colon. Increased screening and early detection through colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies and other techniques have reduced both the incidence and mortality rates of this common cancer. Screening can catch early signs of cancer and has been found to lower the death rate of colon cancer patients by 60 to 70 percent.
#21. Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Percent change in incidence: up 31.8%
AML is one of the two most common adult leukemias, and rates have increased in the past decade. With AML, the bone marrow produces abnormal myeloblasts, which are types of white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. Smoking, previous chemotherapy and exposure to radiation can increase risk for AML.
#20. Cervical Cancer
Percent change in incidence: down 55.8%
Percent change in mortality: down 58.7%
Although cervical cancer is relatively rare, it is still a major public health concern. Routine screening in the form of the Pap test has helped detect cancer at earlier stages, leading to improved survival rates. The development of the HPV vaccine, which targets nearly all cancer-causing strains of the virus, has helped drive rates even lower.
#19. Larynx Cancer
Percent change in incidence: down 40.2%
Percent change in mortality: down 39.3%
The larynx, also known as the voice box, is a part of the throat responsible for holding the vocal cords and windpipe. Cancer cells rarely develop in the larynx, causing vague symptoms such as sore throat, ear pain and other discomfort. Long-term heavy alcohol and tobacco use can increase the risk of developing larynx cancer. This cancer disproportionately affects men and the median age of diagnosis is 65 years old.
#18. Malignant Brain Tumor
Percent change in incidence: up 10.1%
Percent change in mortality: up 7%
Unlike most other cancers, which largely impact older populations, malignant brain tumors are fairly evenly distributed among all age groups. In fact, brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors comprise about 21 percent of all childhood cancers. Rates have remained mostly stable for both incidence and mortality, and there is no clear directional change over time. This can be explained by the fact that we can’t pinpoint what exactly causes them, and that there’s no screening test for these tumors.
#17. Uterine Cancer
Percent change in incidence: down 22.5%
Percent change in mortality: down 14.4%
Like many other hormonally-linked cancers, obesity and high estrogen use can increase the risk of uterine cancer. Incidence and mortality rates are down overall, but there has been a slight uptick in both in the past decade. Uterine cancer rates vary geographically, with the northeast seeing the highest incidence.
#16. Testicular Cancer
Percent change in incidence: up 59.8%
Percent change in mortality: down 66.2%
Though a comparatively rare cancer, testicular cancer is on the rise. It most commonly affects young adults, but fortunately it is relatively curable—over 95 percent of people survive at least five years. Many cases are linked to testicular abnormalities and inherited factors, such as undescended testicles and family history of the disease.
#15. Liver Cancer
Percent change in incidence: up 220%
Percent change in mortality: up 126%
While this cancer is still relatively rare in the United States, rates have skyrocketed in the past few decades. Nationally, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American populations are at the greatest risk. These groups also have some of the highest rates of hepatitis, which can cause liver damage and lead to an increased risk of liver cancer. Fortunately, the gap between incidence and mortality has widened, meaning the survival rate is increasing. In 2007, the five-year survival rate was 18.5 percent, compared with just 3 percent in 1975.
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