Research, treatment, and technology surges throughout the 1990s have led to a 25% reduction in cancer mortality rates since 1991, according to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS’s) latest Cancer Statistics, 2017, report (Siegel, Miller, & Jemal, 2016). The decline in cancer-related deaths accounts for more than 2.1 million lives saved between 1991 and 2014.

The report noted that through the last decade new cancer diagnoses dropped by 2% per year for men while remaining steady for women (Siegel et al., 2016). Although disparities continued to exist between patient populations, diagnoses and mortality rates have dropped across all demographics.

Drops Among the Big Four

Four cancers account for more than 46% of cancer deaths in the United States: lung, prostate, breast, and colorectal (Siegel et al., 2016). However, prostate cancer saw a significant decline in diagnoses during the past 25 years. PSA blood tests are no longer recommended for routine screening in men because they led to overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatments. ACS’s report noted the substantial drop in the number of prostate cancers diagnosed.

Lung cancer rates also declined, partly because fewer people are smoking. Smoking cessation and antismoking campaigns have seen a rise since the early 1990s. Moreover, Capitol Hill has imposed stricter legislation and increased taxes on tobacco products. Smoking rates among men declined at a fast rate than those among women, however; according to ACS’s report, women started smoking in larger groups later in life than men and have been slower to quit.

With the increase in adherence to screening colonoscopy recommendations, clinicians are catching and excising precancerous polyps before they lead to colorectal cancer. Per ACS, diagnoses dropped by 3% per year in both men and women between 2003 and 2014.

Four cancers account for more than 46% of cancer deaths in the United States: lung, prostate, breast, and colorectal.

How Oncology Nurses Can Help the Trends Continue

To maintain declining cancer mortality rates—and potentially usher in another significant drop in cancer deaths—oncology nurses must continue to work closely with their patients. Continued advocacy for timely screening procedures is important to patient outcomes. Patients receiving treatment for one form of cancer should still be screened for other cancers, as noted by national guidelines (ACS, 2014).

Although lung cancer death rates have dropped, oncology nurses should continue to educate patients abouth the risks of smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, or any other form of nicotine delivery devices (ONS, 2016). The negative impact from these habits can still be detrimental to a patient’s health and long- term outcomes. Discussing modifiable risk factors like tobacco cessation, diet, exercise, and others will lead to healthier patients and fewer cancer-related deaths (Pirschel, 2016).

As cancer mortality rates continue to decline, it’s important for oncology nurses to be aware of treating patients with comorbid conditions (see page 12). The number of cancer survivors is expected to grow, and that means managing multiple disease in one patient.

ACS Projections for 2017

According to ACS, nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2017. They also estimate that more than 600,000 patients will die from their cancer diagnoses this year. Moreover, childhood cancers are still the second leading cause of death in children from ages 1 to 14. The ACS estimates that more than 10,000 children will account for new diagnoses in 2017 and more than 1,100 deaths.

American Cancer Society. (2014). Can I lower my risk of getting
a second cancer? Retrieved from cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/medicaltreatments/ secondcancerscausedbycancertreatment/second-cancers-caused-by- cancer-treatment-lowering-risk

ONS. (2016). Potential adverse health consequences of exposure to electronic cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems [position statement]. Retreived from positions/policy/ENDs

Pirschel, C. (2016). Cancer’s risky business: Educating your patients about cancer risk factors. ONS Connect. Retrieved from http://connect.

Siegel, R., Miller, K., & Jemal, A. (2016). Cancer statistics, 2017. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. doi:10.3322/caac.21387