We Continue to Gradually Defeat Cancer

We Continue to Gradually Defeat Cancer
Ellis/Emory University, Department of Pathology/CDC via AP)
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Cancer will not be vanquished in one fell swoop. No singular breakthrough will blare across television, smartphone, and computer screens signaling once-and-for-all victory, sending jubilant thousands into the streets to cheer the demise of one of humankind's greatest mortal foes. Instead, many small advances wrought by dedicated scientists building off prior research will gradually bring malignant tumors to heel. A recent example: researchers in Israel used CRISPR gene editing to destroy cancerous cells in mice without harming other cells, doubling the creatures' life expectancy compared to untreated peers, with almost no side effects. Another recent example: In the wake of their success against COVID-19, mRNA vaccines are now being repurposed to battle tumors. Neither these methods nor the countless others out there constitute a silver bullet, but they all add up to something quite impactful. A newly published report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) reveals just how much.

"Overall cancer death rates in the United States dropped continuously from 1991 through 2018 for a total decrease of 31%, including a 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018," ACS announced. "An estimated 3.2 million cancer deaths have been averted from 1991 through 2018 due to reductions in smoking, earlier detection, and improvements in treatment, which are reflected in long-term declines in mortality for the four leading cancers: lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate."

Advances in lung cancer treatments accounted for much of the drop in death rates. Two-year relative survival for non-small cell lung cancer increased from 34% for patients diagnosed during 2009 through 2010 to 42% for those diagnosed during 2015 through 2016, ACS found.

Also chipping away at cancer's mortality is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. It has the potential to almost entirely eliminate cervical cancer as HPV is the primary cause. More and more adolescents are getting vaccinated ever year, translating to fewer and fewer deaths.

Still, according to the report, in the U.S. "in 2021, almost 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed and 608,570 Americans will die from cancer." Clearly, much work remains to liberate humanity from the scourge of cancer, particularly on malignant tumors of the pancreas, liver, esophagus, and lung, which all have survival rates of around 20% or less.

But ardent scientists are on this case. Over the next few decades, their efforts will undoubtedly continue to pay dividends in terms of lives saved and years lived.

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