U.S. Cancer Death Rates Continue to Decline: Report
But researchers added that people with other health problems have lower odds of survival
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Beer said new targeted therapies for lung cancer have also helped improve survival chances. He expects lung cancer death rates to fall even further with the advent of new standards for lung cancer screening using low-dose CT scans.
"I was particularly struck by the overall decline in cancer death rates," Beer said of the study. "It's modest but real, and the fact that it's annual is encouraging in the sense that even though these gains are modest, they compound over time."
Death rates among men decreased for 11 of the 17 most common cancers, increasing only for melanoma, soft tissue cancers and cancers of the pancreas and liver. Death rates among women decreased for 15 of the 18 most common cancers, increasing for cancers of the uterus, pancreas and liver.
Researchers compared National Cancer Institute data with Medicare claims data to investigate other health problems that can complicate cancer treatment and survival.
Diabetes and its associated complications is the most common health problem affecting cancer patients. It was found in 16 percent of people older than 65 diagnosed with cancer between 1992 and 2005, the researchers said.
"There are a number of issues with diabetes," Beer said. "Some data even suggests insulin can accelerate the growth of cancer." (Many diabetics take insulin, a hormone needed to turn food into fuel for the body).
Patients with diabetes also have to struggle with the effect that cancer medications can have on their blood sugar, Beer added. They may end up receiving a lower dosage or stopping a treatment regimen early because of the conflict between their diabetes control and their cancer therapy.
COPD affects more than 15 percent of older cancer patients, while congestive heart failure affects about 10 percent of patients. About 6 percent are affected by cerebrovascular disease, which can include stroke and aneurysms.
Lung and colorectal cancer patients tended to have other health problems more often than people with other cancers. People with breast and prostate cancers tended to have other health problems at the same rate as people without any cancer.
"The general strength and wellness of patients makes a huge difference in cancer outcomes," Beer said. "People who are capable of going on a hike, jogging, running and eating healthy do a heck of a lot better than people who are sedentary and in poor physical condition."