We’re Winning the War Against Cancer - Aren’t We?

Cancer deaths decline while HPV-related cancers increase according to annual report

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Medicine and patients are winning the ultimate war against cancer. More people than ever are living beyond cancer. The winning trend, which began in the early 1990s, is still in effect, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

The number of deaths from cancer continues to decline. This is true for all cancers, for both men and women, children and people of all major races and ethnicities. The most common cancers – breast, colon, lung and prostate – are also being overcome.

But the news is not rosy in all areas. Some types of cancer are on the rise. More children are being diagnosed with cancer. And the human papillomavirus (HPV) is an emerging cancer threat.

This Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer is the collaborative effort of a number of organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.

“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer,” Dr. Seffrin said in a statement.

Some experts aren’t cheering though. "We don't look at this as progress," Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, told Reuters News. "This is such incremental improvement, when you look at the decades of investments, the cost of treatments, the number of researchers and journals, and then at the number of people who die ... well, we are clearly doing something wrong."

Report Findings

Here are the trends the Annual Report to the Nation found for 2000 to 2009:


  • 1.8 percent per year decline in cancer deaths among men and children
  • 1.4 percent fewer deaths every year for women

New cases

  • The number of new cases among men decreased by about 0.6 percent.
  • New cases of cancer among women stayed the same.
  • More children up to the age of 14 were diagnosed with cancer; a 0.6 percent increase.
  • Highest number of new cases seen among black men and white women between 2005- 2009.

Trends in specific cancer types

  • Lung cancer deaths among women have dropped for the third year in a row.
  • The number of men dying from lung cancer has been decreasing since the early 1990s.
  • Breast and colon cancer deaths continue to decline.
  • The number of new breast cancer cases stayed the same.

New cases of some types of cancer rising

  • More men were diagnosed with cancers of the pancreas, kidney, thyroid, and liver, melanoma of the skin, and myeloma (cancer of plasma cells) between 2000 and 2009.
  • For women there were increased new cases of thyroid, kidney, pancreas, liver and uterine cancers, melanoma of the skin and leukemia.

HPV-related cancers

The report included a special section on cancers caused by the human papillomavirus.

“We are seeing a large number of patients with HPV-associated head and neck cancer and these patients are relatively young, are typically non-smokers and quite often have children,” said Robert I. Haddad, MD, chief of Dana-Farber’s head and neck oncology program. “HPV is a cause of many cancers, so it is really important to support endeavors to vaccinate.”

HPV causes virtually all cervical cancers. It’s also involved in the development of anal, some oropharyngeal (part of the throat), penile, vaginal and vulvar (external female genitalia) cancers.

HPV vaccines can prevent most of these cancers, but less than half of the girls between 13 and 17 received even one of the three vaccinations. Only about one-third of the girls received all three doses. HPV vaccinations are also available for young men.

The report shows these trends for HPV-related cancers between 2000 and 2009:

  • Oropharyngeal cancer increased among white men and women.
  • Anal cancer increased among white and black men and women.
  • Vulvar cancers increased among black and white women.
  • Cervical cancer cases were higher in women who lived in poorer areas.

The sad news

"The sad part of this story is that certain cancers continue to increase in incidence and mortality despite our improved diagnostic techniques and treatments," J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, wrote on his blog. "Liver cancer and pancreatic cancer come to mind, possibly related to the obesity epidemic and probably to uncertain factors.

"In the case of liver cancer, there is increasing concern about the impact of hepatitis C virus, for which the Centers for Disease Control now recommends routine screening among certain age groups given that we now have effective treatments which can reduce the risk of serious damage to the liver from this virus."

A mixed bag

 “Cancer rates are declining, continuing a trend that started some years ago. People are surviving more and we are getting better at preventing some cancers," said Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD, president of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, “But we’re not taking advantage of all the ways to detect cancers at an early stage when they can be the most curable.” 

Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD thinks the trends show important progress."This is extremely exciting and does indeed demonstrate that our nation's investment in cancer research and therapy is starting to pay off," said Dr. Brufsky, who is professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Those who may think otherwise should remember that difficult and complex problems such as cancer are not easily solved. We hope that continued investment by our nation in cancer research and therapy innovation will consolidate and accelerate these important gains,  Dr. Brufsky told dailyRx News.

Review Date: 
January 8, 2013