Declining rates of cancer deaths across the nation over the past two decades prove encouraging for medical researchers and health care professionals, although officials stress against losing perspective as Kentucky remains among the highest mortality totals.
Recent figures released by the American Cancer Society’s annual Cancer Statistics report in January mark a major milestone in the fight against cancer. The overall death rate for cancer in the United States declined by 20 percent between 1991 and 2009, translating to about 1.2 million deaths averted.
The report finds that cancer death rates declined from their one-time peak of 215.1 per 100,000 in 1991, to 173.1 per 100,000 in 2009, according to a cancer society news release.
Rates for the four major cancers — lung, colo-rectal, breast and prostate — all displayed declines.
While authors of the Cancer Statistics report attributed the decreases to early detection and improved treatment options, the society pegged the decrease in lung cancer deaths due to increased awareness of the connection between smoking and cancer.
“Certainly the overall decrease in mortality nationally is something that we should celebrate, but we need to temper that against the close to 10,000 Kentuckians that will die this year from lung cancer, and couple that with a nearly 30 percent adult smoking rate,” said James Sharp, government relations director for ACS Kentucky.
According to data from the Kentucky Cancer Registry, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state remains among the top cancer mortality rates for all types of cancer in the country with a rate of about 201 per 100,000 in 2009.
The state measured a 68.08 per 100,000 mortality rate for lung and bronchus cancer in 2009, also among the nation’s highest.
With current legislation, in the form of House Bill 190, being discussed to ban smoking in public places statewide, advocates for the bill including Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce tout the health benefits in eliminating second-hand smoke.
“We’re very pleased to see that the governor is really making this a priority,” Sharp said. “It does have bipartisan support and we’re working every day here in Frankfort to share these facts and figures.”
House Bill 190 will reach the house floor for discussion in upcoming weeks.
Unfortunately, the Cancer Statistics report highlighted melanoma, liver, thyroid and pancreatic cancers slightly increasing in mortality rates. Pancreatic cancer, in particular, remains one of the deadliest cancers because of a lack of primary prevention, early detection and treatment.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.