January 04, 2012
Cancer Death Rates Continue To Decline

Cancer death rates declined much more rapidly than cancer incidence. One possible interpretation: treatments are becoming more effective.

ATLANTA January 4, 2012 The American Cancer Society's annual cancer statistics report shows that between 2004 and 2008, overall cancer incidence rates declined by 0.6% per year in men and were stable in women, while cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year in men and by 1.6% per year in women.

Progress is slowly being made across a range of different cancers.

Death rates continue to decline for all four major cancer sites (lung, colorectum, breast, and prostate), with lung cancer accounting for almost 40% of the total decline in men and breast cancer accounting for 34% of the total decline in women.

One of the next weapons against cancer: whole genome sequencing. The hope is that anti-cancer treatments can be customized to aim at identifying and then counteracting the combination of mutations that enable each specific cancer. Multiple research efforts are each sequencing hundreds of cancer genomes. A company called Complete Genomics will sequence cancer and normal genomes of a cancer patient for $12,000 and already have hundreds of customers.

A total of about 30,000 human genomes were sequenced in 2011, an order of magnitude more than were sequenced in 2010. This is due to the very rapid rate of decline in costs of sequencing DNA. So we are just at the beginning of a huge flood of genetic sequencing data.

Since some (if not all) cancer happens due to genetic mutations the flood of genetic data ought to provide major clues on how to defeat cancer. Since each cancer has many unique mutations sorting thru them is very non-trivial. Even once more cancer-enabling mutations are identified developing treatments that target them will take years. So I'm not expecting a big short-term payoff.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 January 04 10:11 PM  Biotech Cancer

Kentucky said at January 5, 2012 7:21 AM:

Earlier detection means greater 5-year survival rates even if there's no greater success of treatment.

Nuke'Em said at January 5, 2012 7:51 AM:

The interesting part of this report that wasn't highlighted was the increase in cancers associated with infectious agents like human papillomavirus (HPV). It makes me wonder how many other cancer causing viruses there are and which cancers might be caused by undiscovered viruses.

PacRim Jim said at January 5, 2012 2:22 PM:

What you say might be true, but those extra years will be filled with worry and fear, which would be avoided by someone ignorant of their condition.
Six of one, positive square root of 36 of the other.

bbartlog said at January 5, 2012 3:47 PM:

'Since each cancer has many unique mutations sorting thru them is very non-trivial.'
I worked for a little while at a company (Precision Therapeutics) that would
- get cancer cell samples (biopsies)
- culture them
- split up the cultured tumor cells into a bunch of wells on a treatment plate
- dose the tumor cells with variety of different chemotherapeutic agents
- see which agents impaired the growth of the cancer cells most effectively
All highly automated, of course (photo scans of the wells with robotic cell counting, robot pipette dispensers for treatment media, etc. etc.).
Anyway, we were able to add four months to the survival time of the average cancer patient we treated (or should I say advised). Or so our statisticians claimed in a paper they published. We only had FDA approval for a couple types of cancers, though (defined by tumor location).

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2012 10:57 PM:


The researchers try to adjust for many factors and look at age-adjusted death rates for example.


I'm not surprised chemicals can add months. But we need more selective targeting agents to kill cancers to tell them to stop being cancers.

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