The American Cancer Society has just announced that the number of Americans who died of cancer has dropped for a second straight year, marking a milestone in the war on the disease. The trend was driven by drops in deaths from three of the four major forms of cancer — breast, prostate and colorectal — and a decline in deaths among men from the fourth, lung cancer. According to researchers, it was caused by a combination of factors, including a decrease in cigarette smoking among men, wider screening for colon, prostate and breast cancer, and better treatments.
That deaths from cancer are down is certainly good news. I’m just not sure that the medical community can take that much credit for it.
The reduction in lung cancer deaths results from a reduction in cigarette smoking. Lawyers are probably more responsible for that than medical doctors. And by the way, is it just my imagination or has Hollywood once again embraced cigarettes as “sexy” and “in”? Doesn’t it seem that more and more younger stars are smoking in films again? If so, you can look for deaths from lung cancer to start climbing again in 15-20 years as young adults start paying the price of emulating their favorite celebrities.
As for breast cancer, we’ve already explored the fact in a previous blog that much of the reduction is the result of doctors finally realizing that they were killing women with synthetic hormone replacement therapy.
As for the decrease in colon cancer, that may have more to do with changes in lifestyle than with advances in medical treatment. For example, the same reduction in smoking that’s responsible for the drop in lung cancer deaths may play a role in the drop in colon cancer deaths. Other factors could include the food industry’s jumping onboard the fiber bandwagon several years ago and the Omega-3 fatty acid tidal wave now sweeping America. In fact, the increased consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids may play a significant role in the reduction of all cancers.
And then there’s prostate cancer. Increased use of Omega-3 fatty acids plays a role here too, as does the increased use of antioxidants such as lycopene (which is so ubiquitous now you can even find it in mainstream products such One-A Day Vitamins for men) and green tea extract.
The bottom line is that it is far more likely that any reduction in deaths from cancer is more attributable to lifestyle changes than to better “screening” and “treatments.” In fact, it is worth noting that many of these “treatments” have very significant long term health consequences.