Our monthly series called “Brain Tumor Facts & Figures” will provide information and data that can help you in your advocacy, fundraising, and awareness-raising efforts by presenting statistics that can help convey the difficult realities our community is up against. These can be used to make a case for support to your members of Congress, state legislators, family, friends, co-workers, and other members of your community and network.
For a full breakdown of all the standard brain tumor statistics and facts, one can always view our Brain Tumors Quick Facts webpage.
For our first few installments of this series, we focused on some unique, different, and in-depth brain tumor facts and figures like cost-of-care and Years of Potential Life Lost. Then in May, for National Brain Tumor Awareness Month, we went over all the basic statistics about brain tumors in America – incidence rates, estimated new cases, mortality, and survival rates.
This month, we turn to the newly-released 2018 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status on Cancer, that is prepared yearly by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).
WHAT WAS MEASURED: The NCI, CDC, ACS, and NAACCR collaborated to provide this annual report on cancer occurrences (incidences) and trends. In this case, the report mainly focused on trends in cancer death rates, or cancer mortality. In this post, we’ll also focus specifically on trends in cancer deaths. Data on cancer deaths were obtained from the National Vital Statistics System and was based on death certificate information reported to state vital statistics offices and compiled into a national report covering all states in the U.S. by the National Center for Health Statistics. Death rates were analyzed for the latest period from which information available, which is 1999-2015, and is stated in terms of percentage change.
WHAT IT FOUND: Overall, the report found that cancer death rates continue to decline in the U.S. for both males (by 1.8%) and females (by 1.4%). For all cancer sites and all sexes combined, the cancer death rate in the United States fell by 1.5%. For some specific cancers, the decrease in deaths was even more pronounced, with melanoma, non-hodgkin lymphoma, colon, and lung cancer death rates declining between 2.2% and 3.8%. This is undoubtedly good news.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: The report’s conclusion begins by stating, “Overall, there continue to be significant declines in cancer death rates among both men and women,” which closely mirrors the headline of the accompanying press release from the NCI, which reads, “Overall cancer death rates continue to decline.” These affirmations have also translated to news coverage of the report, with headlines like, ““US Cancer deaths continue to decline” and “Overall cancer mortality continues to decline.”
“This year’s report is an encouraging indicator of progress we’re making in cancer research…It’s clear that interventions are having an impact,” NCI Director Ned Sharpless, MD, said in the press release.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BRAIN TUMORS? Unfortunately, in stark contrast to the positivity of the overall report, when broken down by individual cancer site, malignant brain and other CNS tumors (“brain cancer”) are, to date, not part of this encouraging trend.
“Progress in reducing cancer mortality has not occurred for all sites,” the report’s conclusion cautions. Specifically, the report notes that, “Over the same period, death rates for cancers of the liver, pancreas, and brain increased in both men and women.”
For brain cancer, cancer death rates have actually increased by 0.5% in both men and women.
SIGNIFICANCE: “I do think we have to be clear — if cancer is 10,000 diseases, we need 10,000 cures,” said Sharpless in an interview with CNBC after the report’s release. He continued, “I think it’s fair to say we’re making tremendous progress, and there’s a lot of excitement…[but] it’s not uniform. So, we do have some cancers where our progress has been modest.” There, Sharpless named pancreatic cancer, glioblastoma, childhood brain cancer and liver cancer, where he noted mortality is on the rise in the U.S.
It’s important that Director Sharpless has specifically noted, as a key takeaway, that brain cancer – in both adults and children – requires much more significant progress. We, of course, would adamantly agree with that assessment.
Making matters more challenging is that for the only other two cancers (pancreas and liver) that actually saw increases in cancer death rates, there is at least some key factors (which can be addressed in many cases) that can be pointed to as contributing to the rise in mortality rates. The report notes that the increase in liver cancer death rates has been associated with the high prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection among Baby Boomers, as well as the obesity epidemic in America. It is also believed that the obesity epidemic has contributed to the increase in pancreatic cancer death rates, by as much as 25% in the United States.
Further, much of the improvements and declines in other cancers’ death rates, has been attributed to smoking and tobacco cessation and better early detection – unfortunately, at this date these types of measure are not applicable to brain cancer.
So, ultimately, what does this all mean for our community? It means we continue to have work to do. It means that we need to continue to push for more research funding for brain tumor research that is aimed at developing new, more effective treatments – both from an advocacy standpoint and from philanthropic efforts, like the fundraising that many of you continue to generously undertake on behalf of National Brain Tumor Society and to benefit our programs that are laser-focused on finding better treatments and cures for brain tumors.
Our eye is on the ball, and it will remain there until we are no longer the outlier in reports such as this one and others – and until we meet our mission. We hope you’ll continue to fight alongside us, as well.