New AACR report finds US cancer rates are falling thanks to new treatments, better screening

By MDLinx staff
Published September 22, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • A 2022 report from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) found that incidence of US cancer deaths has declined over the past 2 decades, and the number of cancer survivors increased by more than 1 million between 2019–2022.

  • The AACR report attributed these improved numbers to such treatments as immunotherapies and DNA-mutation-targeting drugs. Early detection was also cited as a vital contributor to the lowered death rates.

  • The report endorsed President Biden’s relaunched Cancer Moonshot initiative, which it hopes will be funded by Congress to provide a framework for improving cancer prevention strategies, increasing screening, reducing disparities among underserved populations, and developing new treatments.

New treatments, improved screening, and enhanced prevention strategies are resulting in decreased death rates from cancer, according to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) published September 21, 2022.[]

The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2022 found that overall incidence of cancer deaths has declined over the past 2 decades, “albeit the rates have stabilized more recently.”

Progress, concerns cited

“The steady decline in the overall cancer death rate can be attributed mainly to the unprecedented progress against lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer, the four most common cancer types in the United States,” the report stated. The report did find, however, that incidence of some cancers such as pancreatic, uterine, and kidney cancer, is on the rise.

The report also announced that from 2019 to 2022, the number of US cancer survivors increased by more than 1 million, topping 18 million as of January 1, 2022. (For comparison, that number was 3 million as of 1971).

"In fact, the age-adjusted overall cancer death rate has declined by 32 percent between 1991 and 2019 in the United States, a reduction that translates into nearly 3.5 million cancer deaths avoided."

AACR Cancer Progress Report 2022

Immunotherapy success

AACR president Lisa M. Coussens, PHD, FAACR, cited immunotherapies as a treatment approach that contributed to reduction in cancer deaths.

“Our ability to utilize or leverage the power of the immune system to fight cancer is huge,” Dr. Coussens told NBC News.[] “It’s why you are seeing much more significant survival rates in many cancers, such as lung and kidney cancers and melanoma.”

Dr. Coussens also discussed drugs that target specific DNA mutations in cancer cells.

"The development of molecularly targeted drugs has certainly been a game-changer but haven’t been enough to result in true significant changes in overall survival."

Lisa M. Coussens, PHD, FAACR

Early detection is vital

Dr. Coussens also cited advances in early detection of cancer as contributing to the lower death rate, telling NBC News that patients had the best chance of surviving cancer if it was caught extremely early in the premalignant stage or before the primary tumor was able to spread to other parts of the body.

The AACR report also found that increased efforts to get people to be screened for common cancers including cervical, prostate, colon, and breast cancers contributed to the new findings.

Impact of COVID-19, racial disparities

Regarding the impact of COVID-19 in patients with cancer, the report found that “COVID-19- related mortality among this population has decreased over time.”

The Association will continue to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 on cancer outcomes.

As the Association detailed in its 2022 Cancer Disparities Progress Report, racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved U.S. populations continue to have disproportionately higher cancer rates than Whites, although these numbers have also shown improvement.[]

It found that the gap in cancer deaths between Black and White populations shrunk to 13% in 2019, representing a 60% decline in this disparity since 2019. “However,” the report said, “even in 2019, overall cancer death rates were higher among Black men and women compared to all other U.S. racial and ethnic groups.”

ACCR endorses ‘Moonshot’

Despite the positive tone of the AACR report, it did indicate that more than 600,000 people in the US were expected to die from cancer in 2022—and the number of new cancer cases diagnosed per year is expected to reach around 2.3 million by 2040.[]

The report urged Congress to support and fund President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which he relaunched in 2022 to further propel cancer research.

"The reignited Cancer Moonshot will provide an important framework to improve cancer prevention strategies; increase cancer screenings and early detection; reduce cancer disparities; and propel new lifesaving cures for patients with cancer," the report stated.

The AACR is a professional association that was founded in 1907 “to further the investigation and spread the knowledge of cancer,” according to the AACR website.

What this means for you

The AACR 2022 report indicates that outcomes are improving for cancer in the US, but the battle is far from won. Based on the report’s findings, physicians can play a vital role in recommending cancer prevention strategies to their patients, and considering new and emerging cancer treatments to help further drive down rates of cancer diagnosis and death.

Read Next: What the pandemic could teach doctors about cancer treatment and prevention
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