The American Cancer Society released its year-in-review data for 2019, revealing insights from research conducted throughout the year. Among the top stories of 2019, researchers identified a link between obesity and cancer, as well as the value of exercise in a patient’s cancer journey. Studies also indicated social and economic gaps can impact the quality of cancer care a patient receives.
With this knowledge, doctors and cancer centers can better identify areas of weakness in early diagnosis, treatment and patient behaviors that impact the course of care. This research can help patients with a variety of cancers, including mesothelioma.
U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues to Decrease
According to data collected from the American Cancer Society, trends show the overall death rate from cancer in the United States continues to decline. Records from 2016 indicate the cancer death rate for men and women combined decreased by 1.5% each year since 1991, and 27% total in that time period. Experts credit the general decline in cancer deaths to improved methods of early detection and treatment options, as well as a steady decline in the number of people who smoke.
Mesothelioma statistics, however, show a rather steady mortality rate for the rare cancer. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 2,479 mesothelioma deaths in 1999. The most recent data from 2017 recorded 2,651 deaths from mesothelioma.
Despite minimal changes in mesothelioma mortality rate, studies have found improved survival rates in recent years. Clinical trials continue to explore new diagnostic methods and innovative treatment options. One advancement includes the FDA’s approval of NovoTTF-100L, the first mesothelioma treatment to be FDA approved in the last 15 years.
The treatment serves as a noninvasive option for patients by delivering low-intensity electrical fields to the affected areas. As a result, this new therapy is more accessible to patients who are in advanced stages of mesothelioma and can’t withstand surgical procedures. Treatments such as this can help improve patients’ life expectancy and prevent the cancer from metastasizing, or spreading, as quickly.
Study Evaluates Benefit of Different Treatment Plans
Despite advancements in treatments and technology for cancer patients, studies suggest more research is needed to identify the characteristics of cancer patients who will benefit more from treatment or end-of-life care. This came after a study revealed patients with incurable cancer may be overtreated with standard treatments, instead of being referred for palliative treatment options.
In the study, approximately 30% of patients who died within a month of being diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer received aggressive treatment. The treatment included chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.
Over the 10 years of study, the use of treatment for incurable forms of cancer, such as metastatic lung cancer, decreased. Experts said this is due to doctors and other specialists having a better understanding of the quality of life over the length of life. Doctors also have a better understanding of the overall cost and benefit of treatment, especially for those who may not be able to afford it.
While researchers did not have access to information about the survival times of patients who underwent a palliative treatment plan, they believe further study is needed to determine more accurate survival times for cancer patients who forego aggressive treatment.
Social and Economic Factors Impact Cancer Treatment
Although the 2019 data shows decreasing cancer incidence and mortality rates, researchers identified socioeconomic differences as a threat to the trend. For example, people living in poorer counties in the U.S. are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors as opposed to people living in the country’s richest counties. This is attributed to behaviors such as smoking and poor diet. Death rates in poor counties were 40% higher for men with lung and liver cancers than in wealthier counties.
A person’s occupation and access to routine screenings and high-quality treatment can also impact the likelihood of developing cancer. For example, mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed among blue-collar workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job. Because the cancer has nonspecific symptoms and a long latency period, most cases are diagnosed at a later stage.
These characteristics of mesothelioma, coupled with the racial and ethnic differences that impact diagnosis and treatment, may continue to influence the overall mesothelioma mortality rate. Early diagnosis for mesothelioma and other cancers can provide patients with a more favorable prognosis and access to more aggressive treatment options than patients who are diagnosed at a later stage.
The statistics from the American Cancer Society can help determine areas of research through the new year for all types of cancer, including mesothelioma. With continued research and shared insights, oncologists continually work to improve cancer survival rates, as well as improve upon factors that may be a detriment to treatment.