Cancer death rates are falling continuously – Advances in lung cancer treatment are playing a major role.

Deaths from lung cancer dropped by 51 percent among men since the early 1990s and by 26 percent among women since the early 2000s. The report also credits drops in lung cancer mortality for a 2.2 percent dip from 2016 to 2017 — the largest decline of cancer deaths in a single year ever reported. Doctors attribute the success in part to lower smoking rates but also to significant advances in treatment.

Major medical advances are continuing

"The years we have been investing in basic science of cancer therapeutics [are] now starting to pay off," said Dr. Patrick Hwu, division head of cancer medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.


Hwu, who was not involved with the new report, credited targeted therapies, which are drugs that work to eliminate the circuitry that turns on cancer cells.


Another of the biggest advances, experts said, has been the development of immunotherapies such as Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab. It uses the body’s immune system to fight tumors, and it is approved for lung cancer and melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.


The American Cancer Society report also found rapid declines in melanoma death rates, up to 7 percent a year from 2013 to 2017 among adults, also attributable to new treatments. The Food and Drug Administration approved two key drugs to treat melanoma: ipilimumab and vemurafenib.


"We’re actually seeing the effect of those drugs reflected in the overall melanoma death rate," said Rebecca Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and an author of the new report. "That’s really exciting." Physicians are seeing it in practice, as well.


"In the past decade, how we treat invasive melanoma has evolved so unbelievably rapidly that it is, for some, becoming more of a chronic disease than a death sentence," said Dr. Adam Friedman, a professor of dermatology at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

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