News & Information | START In The News

January 9th, 2014
1200 WOAI
By: Jim Forsyth

Cancer Decline Seen a Result of Lifestyle Changes

'The Big C' is in a big decline, and local ongologist and cancer researcher Dr. Drew Rasco with San Antonio's START Center for Cancer Care says you have only yourself to credit.

The new report Cancer Statistics 2014 shows overall death rates from cancer have continued their steep decline of the past two decades, and the average American now has a 20% less risk of dying from cancer today than we did in 1994, just twenty years ago.

Dr. Rasco, who is among the country's most respected oncologists and cancer researchers, says the drop is almost entirely due to Americans taking control of their own lives, and realizing the connection between cancer and factors like diet, cigarette smoking, and exposure to sunlight.

"There is earlier detection, diagnosing cancer at earlier stages than at times past," he said. "There have also been major public health efforts to decrease smoking rates."

He pointed out that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Surgeon General's Report on Smoking, which is considered to be one of the most significant efforts undertaken in terms of lives saved.

The report shows that the rate of deaths from cancer has held relatively steady over the past two decades, at about 575,000per year of 1600 per day. But that number comes at a time when the U.S. population has grown by mor ethan 25 million,a nd the rate of cancer death, a more significant figure, has dripped from 215 per 100,000 Americans in 1991 to 171 per 100,000 in 2010.

Dr. Rasco says we have radically changed our attitudes about everything from smoking to sunscreen.

"When I was a kid playing outside I never used to use sunscreen," he said. "But now my own children, every time they leave the house, we are lathering them up with sunscreen."

As anybody who watches the TV drama 'Mad Men' can attest, the levels of smoking, recreational drinking, and other unhealthy behaviors which were common place in the 1960s strike us as entertainingly bizarre today.

"Improvements have been made in terms of cancer treatment as well," he said.

Rasco and other oncologists say the next challenge is to do for obesity what we have been relatively successful doing for smoking. He says in addition to behavioral changes, new targeted treatments and early detection have also helped deflate 'The Big C.'

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