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According to the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate has dropped 29% since 1991, falling 2.2% from 2016 to 2017 alone. Although cancer mortality rates drop about 1.8% each year, significant recent breakthroughs in research and treatments have contributed to this decrease. This 26-year decline is due to the decreased death rated in the four most common cancers: lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate. New treatments and therapies for melanoma (a type of skin cancer) have caused a sharp decrease in the death date of patients, especially after the FDA approved a new immunotherapy drug in 2011. Likewise, there have been advances in lung cancer treatments coinciding with reduced smoking rates. This is extremely significant as lung cancer kills more people than breast, colorectal, and brain cancers combined. Health care workers are still dealing with the effects of cigarette smoking in the 1960s and 70s in the current population. Lung cancer is also very hard to detect. There is a lag between when an individual starts or stops smoking and when cancer develops, making this type of cancer very dangerous and difficult to diagnose.
However, this morality decrease is not the same throughout the cancer spectrum. Progress has slowed for colorectal, breast cancers while, for prostate cancer, it has halted entirely. This is being attributed to rising obesity rates. Certain cancers, including liver, kidney, pancreas, uterus, breast (in menopausal women), colon, and rectal (in young adults), are all obesity-related. In modern medicine, obesity is almost parallel to what doctors saw with the rise of cigarette smoking.
Specialists say that cancer-related deaths are decreasing and will continue to decrease in the coming years. This news is promising, especially in 2020, where the coronavirus outbreak is taking over hospitals and risking discharging non-critical patients, including patients going through chemo, to increase space for those infected.
What does this mean for cancer patients?
Recently, the CDC recommended that all healthcare facilities prioritize the emergency patients and procedures in the next few weeks. This is not only for these hospitals and clinics to help combat the pandemic, but to keep vulnerable patients safe. Many cancer patients are at an increased risk because their treatments compromise their immune systems, making them weaker and more susceptible to illnesses. The effects of keeping cancer patients away from treatment centers may mean postponing their surgeries, preventative care, or chemotherapy meant to keep cancer from returning. Appointments for these patients are being canceled for the individual to reschedule once the hospital environment is less likely to get them sick from other illnesses. It is not meant to make more time for corona patients, but rather to take precautionary steps for the patients who might be more vulnerable.
“This actually happened to my ex-uncle. He currently has throat cancer and was recently discharged due to corona and even though he is young and healthy. They had to remove him from the hospital and he is no longer allowed to attend his treatments. In addition, my older great-uncle who has glioblastoma multiform has been told to quit all treatments and is essentially being sent home to die. Despite this, I’ve worked with many organizations, Moffitt and the leukemia and lymphoma society, and I know scientists and non-profits alike are working very very hard to provide the best care possible, taking into account all variables which may affect a person’s well-being and condition,” said senior Lauren Jones.
There are still ways for cancer patients to stay in contact with their health providers and they are advised to participate in follow-ups that do not require them to physically go to a clinic. Getting back on track with cancer screening and combative care, however, may take months.
It is predicted that there will be complications with cancer patients during this time, “We’re headed for a time when there will be significant disruptions in the care of patients with cancer,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society.
Another one of the concerns for cancer patients during this pandemic is the canceled fundraising events that researchers rely on to fund cancer research and treatment development. Charity events such as Relay for Life is being canceled in communities to prevent the spread of this disease. This, however, impacts the cancer research process. Participants are, instead, encouraged to DONATE online if they wish to contribute to the cause.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in both men and women nationally. In 2020, the American Cancer Society predicts that there will be about 1,806,590 new cancer cases and 606,520 deaths – which is approximately 4,950 new cases and more than 1,600 deaths each day.