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“Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer” Finds Brain Tumor Death Rates Not Improving for Fourth Straight Year, Despite Positive Overall Trends in Cancer

2019-06-07

Results underscore need to better understand the biology of brain tumors and more rapidly advance potential treatments from the lab into innovative clinical trials


Last week, the 2019 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status on Cancer — 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) — was released with the encouraging headline that “Overall cancer mortality continues to decline.” 

“We are encouraged by the fact that this year’s report continues to show declining cancer mortality for men, women, and children, as well as other indicators of progress,” said Betsy A. Kohler, executive director of NAACCR in a press release accompanying the report.

Continuing a positive trend seen in previous reports from recent years, the study’s authors found that overall death rates decreased by 1.8% per year for men and 1.4% for women. However, brain cancer remains one of the few cancers that have not tracked with the overall trend for either sex. Current trends in cancer death rates actually show an average annual percentage increase of 0.6% for men with brain cancer and 0.5% for females with brain cancer.

This is now the fourth straight year that the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer has reported no improvement in mortality for brain cancer across both sexes. The 2018 and 2017 reports also found small increases in death rates for brain cancer in both sexes, while the 2016 report only charted stable rates.

Additionally, this year’s Report to the Nation included a “special section” on cancer rates and trends in young adults (ages 20-49). In this population, specifically, death rates remained stable for brain cancer in both men and women, despite the overall trend of declining mortality appearing even more pronounced in this group than for all ages combined (a 2.3% per year decline for men and 1.7% decline for women ages 20-49). Further, researchers found that in addition to being the most common cause of cancer-related death in children and adolescents (ages 0-19), brain cancer is the third deadliest cancers in males and sixth in women ages 20-49. Thus, when considering that these tumors are the 11th and 12th most commonly occurring tumors in males and females in this age bracket, respectively, it’s clear that brain cancer disproportionately impacts cancer death rates in young adults.

The authors also dedicated a large portion of the special section specifically to nonmalignant brain tumors, whose impact in the young adult population was deemed a “substantial” burden. While incidence rates for malignant brain tumors (brain cancer) have continued to slightly decline per year, nonmalignant brain tumors have seen significant increases in diagnoses, by 3.7% and 3.2% per year on average for males and females, respectively, with “increasing trends in all age-sex strata.” The authors reported that the symptoms of nonmalignant brain tumors “can be severe and may persist [even] after treatment.” Finally, the researchers noted that these tumors are “associated with considerable long-term and late effects related to the disease or its treatment,” and concluded that, “access to timely and high-quality treatment and survivorship care is important to improve health outcomes and quality of life,” for these patients.

“Those impacted by brain tumors directly, along with all of us working in the neuro-oncology community, know the statistics, burden, and challenges we face all too well,” said David Arons, chief executive officer of the National Brain Tumor Society. “With each year’s ‘Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer’ we are reminded of the fact that progress against the collection of diseases we call ‘cancer’ remains uneven, and that brain tumors remain an area of huge unmet need. Our patient population is crying out for more – more resources, more focus, more commitment and dedication, more creativity, more new ideas, and ultimately more (and more effective) treatments. At the National Brain Tumor Society we will continue doing everything that we can to upend this unacceptable status quo through treatment-focused research, including our Defeat Brain Tumors Research Program; connecting all those who are working to develop new products and solutions; and creating the needed change through robust advocacy for policy, innovation, and health care essential to realizing cures and better care. We will not stop sounding the clarion call of these reports until we’re on the path to a cure.”

Published on May 30, 2019 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the 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 2012-2016, and is stated in terms of percentage change.

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