The year is still young and we could all use some good news. Fortunately, there is some! A report released recently by the American Cancer Society tells us that cancer deaths in the US have declined 27% over the past 25 years. The details can be found on the American Cancer Society website, Look for “Facts and Figures, 2019.

Let’s examine the story behind this promising statistic.

Part of the drop in US cancer deaths is due to fewer people smoking. California owns the bragging rights to the fastest drop in lung cancer mortality, 33 percent faster than the rest of the United States, due to aggressive tobacco control efforts. In California, a pack of cigarettes is going to cost you, but the financial and health impacts of fewer smokers and less lung cancer is paying dividends.

Another factor in the steady, 1.5% per year drop in the cancer death rate from its peak in 1991 is “advances in detection and treatment of cancer at earlier stages, when prognosis for recovery is generally better.” This is, indeed, good news, although the drop is not equitably spread among ethnic and socioeconomic groups. In the U.S., African Americans have lower survival rates than whites for most types of cancer, and the disparity is even greater for American Indians/Alaska Natives. Reducing disparities in access to care and addressing social determinants of health could close this gap and should be all of our concern.

Mixed in with the good news in this report is a more sobering statistic about cancer incidence. Even as smoking has declined across the US, obesity has unfortunately played an increasing role in cancer incidence. For example, cases of endometrial cancer are up, and 60% of the increase is attributed to obesity. The connection between obesity and cancer is well established. The National Cancer Institute lists 13 different types of cancer for which obesity increases risk. There are so many reasons to strive for a healthy weight and to get outside and exercise more—the main one, perhaps, being increased energy and an improved sense of well-being. Families with children should encourage daily outdoor time, playing. Going outside with our children to play, to take family hikes, to ride bicycles, to run and play tag, to walk, dance, garden, these are all possibilities for increasing movement and all are bound to lift our spirits at the same time.

The reduction in cancer mortality in the United States is a promising sign that science and medicine are making progress against cancer. I think it is also a glimpse of what a cure for cancer looks like: not a single “eureka” moment of discovery in the form of a universal cure, but more like a thousand bits of incremental progress that involves precision medicine, immunotherapy, and advanced screening and detection. We are chipping away at cancer; not fast enough for any of us with loved ones fighting this disease right now. But there is reason to be hopeful, which is welcome news for a new year.

The Cancer Resource Centers’ 2019 Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your health care provider.  The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.