NEW YORK— The rate of cancer deaths in the United States suffered its greatest annual decline, due in part to advances in the treatment of lung cancer, scientists say.
The overall rate has been falling around 1.5% per year since 1991. It fell 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, according to the new report of the American Cancer Society. That is the biggest drop recorded in national statistics dating back to 1930, said Rebeca Siegel, lead author of the study.
“(The decline) is absolutely driven by lung cancer,” which represents a quarter of all cancer deaths, he said. If lung cancer is not included, the decline in the 2017 rate is 1.4%, he added.
Previously, a government report indicated a slightly lower decline in cancer death rates for the same period. But the Cancer Society calculates the rate differently and on Wednesday said the decline was greater and a new record.
Most cases of lung cancer are linked to smoking and decades of decline in smoking have led to a drop in lung cancer rates and deaths.
But the drop in deaths seems to have been accelerated by recent advances in the treatment of lung cancer, Siegel said.
Experts give credit mainly to advances in treatment. Topping the list refinements in surgery, better diagnostic scans and more precise radiation.
They also praise the impact of new drugs. Genetic analyzes can now identify specific mutations of cancer cells, allowing more targeted therapies using new drugs that are more advanced than traditional chemotherapy.
Even patients with advanced cancers are surviving several years instead of months: after starting treatment, he said. “That was very rare a decade ago,” he said.
New immunotherapy drugs could accelerate the decline in death rates, said Dr. Jyoti Patel, an expert in lung cancer at Northwestern University.