50 Years of the National Cancer Act

For forty years, the US has made incremental, steady progress in reducing the death rate for cancer. While substantial progress has seen millions of lives saved, we’re leaving the most vulnerable behind.

The newest study from the American Cancer Society shows just how much progress the US government has made in lowering the death rate for some types of cancer, while other cancer types have turned more deadly. Some of the most common types of cancer have dropped considerably. Deaths from lung cancer, for instance, are down 44% since 1993, the year which saw the highest death rate.

Lowering the Cancer Death Rate

Experts attribute much of the progress to efforts to promote cancer prevention, better technology and more frequent cancer screening, and advancements in cancer treatments. Still, those techniques have failed to stave of increased death rates in pancreatic, esophagus, and brain cancers.

Cancer is not the great equalizer and affects different communities more acutely. Poor and impoverished Americans are less likely to have access to preventative medicines, advance cancer screenings, and may struggle to find specialists in their area who take Medicaid as payment.

That problem is geographic, too. The American South has a lower per capita income as compared to other regions in the country, and many states in the region declined to expand access or support for families trying to access Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. Obesity and tobacco use is also higher in the South.

Smoking Cessation and Cancer Death Rate

Tobacco use and smoking in particular are notable success stories. Smoking rates have played an important part in reducing the total number of certain types of cancer. Smoking cessation fell from 65% of Americans classified as regular smokers to 14% in 2018.

This study’s release comes as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act. Passed in 1971, the Act increased the annual budget of the National Cancer Institute from $227 million in 1971 to its $6 billion budget in 2019.

Cancer prevention remains an underfunded tool in the fight against cancer. Efforts such as environmental clean-up, effective food and drug regulation, and insuring more Americans for basic care and regular cancer screenings should take on more importance in the next fifty years of our fight against cancer.

The full report was published November 11, 2021 in JAMA.

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Cody Sovis

Low-level marketing guy with a cycling habit. Advocate for cancer prevention, active lifestyles, equality, and breakfast cookies.