Cancer deaths have been dropping across the country, but some states are more effective than others.
The American Cancer Society’s annual report on cancer rates and deaths reports that deaths from cancer have dropped by 22% over the past 20 years. This means 1.5 million lives have been spared.
Decreases in lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer, the four major cancers, are driving much of the improvement.
More widespread screening, which is leading to early detection and treatment, is also helping finding and managing cancer before they become fatal.
Unfortunately, the data also shows that there is a disturbing trend of slower progress in southern states. On average, death rates in the southern region of the U.S. have declined by about 15% compared to drops of 25% -30% in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.
According to researchers the smaller decline may be attributed to higher smoking rates in states like South Carolina and Kentucky as well as more obesity and greater disparities in socioeconomic status. Generally people with lower incomes have less access to cancer screening and treatment programs.
The differences are due to unequal dissemination of early detection and improvements in treatment rather than biology.
It is especially important for improvements to continue as the population continues to age. Cancer is generally a disease of aging, the absolute number of caner diagnoses and potential deaths could increase. However, by expanding screening programs and ensuring that more people have access to them could help keep cancer rates and deaths trending downward.
The improvements in northeastern states show that it is possible. Awareness and education about early screening and detections need to be spread to everyone in the U.S. There would be enormous gains from just that.