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Lung cancer deaths have been falling by nearly 5% a year since 2001 thanks to better treatment

Death rates from lung cancer have been declining sharply in the US due to recent advances in treatments, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that fatality rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common lung cancer, have fallen by about 4.5 percent percent from 2001 through 2016. 

Additionally, the rate of cases of NSCLC have fallen by about 2.3 percent over the course of 10 years, from 2006 to 2016. 

The team from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, says the decrease in deaths, for both men and women, began accelerating around 2013, when doctors began recommending drugs that target genetic changes in tumors.

A new study found, in men, deaths fell by 3.2% every year from 2006 to 2013 and 6.3% per year from 2013 to 2016 while, in women, deaths fell by 2.3% annually from 2006 through 2014 and by 5.9% annually from 2014 through 2016 (above)

A new study found, in men, deaths fell by 3.2% every year from 2006 to 2013 and 6.3% per year from 2013 to 2016 while, in women, deaths fell by 2.3% annually from 2006 through 2014 and by 5.9% annually from 2014 through 2016 (above)

A new study found, in men, deaths fell by 3.2% every year from 2006 to 2013 and 6.3% per year from 2013 to 2016 while, in women, deaths fell by 2.3% annually from 2006 through 2014 and by 5.9% annually from 2014 through 2016 (above)

Two-year survival rates increased for men from 26% in 2001 to 35% in 2014  (left) and for women by 35% in 2001 to 44% in 2014 (right)

Two-year survival rates increased for men from 26% in 2001 to 35% in 2014  (left) and for women by 35% in 2001 to 44% in 2014 (right)

Two-year survival rates increased for men from 26% in 2001 to 35% in 2014  (left) and for women by 35% in 2001 to 44% in 2014 (right)

Researchers say reduced tobacco use has led to a decrease in lung cancer deaths starting around 1990 in men and 2000 in women, but that there are other factors. 

‘Until now…we have not known whether newer treatments might contribute to some of the recent improvement,’ said co-author Dr Douglas Lowy, deputy director of the NCI.

‘This analysis shows for the first time that nationwide mortality rates for the most common category of lung cancer…are declining faster than its incidence, an advance that correlates with the [US Food and Drug Administration] approval of several targeted therapies for this cancer in recent years.’ 

Among these new treatments include ones that target genetic changes in NSCLC tumors and others  

For the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the team looked at  data for both NSCLC and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) in the US.

NSCLC accounts for 76 percent of lung cancer cases in the nation while SCLC  accounts for about 13 percent.

Among the new treatments for NSCLC that have emerged in the last decade include drugs that target genetic changes in tumors and others that help the immune system better attack the cancer. 

By comparison, there have been few advances in therapies for SCLC. 

Researchers linked lung cancer death records to cancer diagnosis records compiled by NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) cancer registry program. 

Records showed that deaths from NSCLC in men decreased 3.2 percent every year from 2006 to 2013 and 6.3 percent annually from 2013 to 2016.

Meanwhile, among women, mortality fell by 2.3 percent annually from 2006 through 2014 and by 5.9 percent annually from 2014 through 2016.

Cases also fell with decreases by 3.1 percent in men every year from 2008 to 2016 and in women by 1.5 percent annually from 2006 to 2016.  

Meanwhile, two-year relative survival among patients with NSCLC also improved, with men increasing from 26 percent in 2001 to 35 percent in 2014. 

improvements in two-year survival were seen for all races and ethnicities, despite concerns that the newer treatments may be too expensive and increase disparities (above)

improvements in two-year survival were seen for all races and ethnicities, despite concerns that the newer treatments may be too expensive and increase disparities (above)

improvements in two-year survival were seen for all races and ethnicities, despite concerns that the newer treatments may be too expensive and increase disparities (above)

The team say these figures are due to new therapies such as drugs that target genetic changes in tumors and or that fortify the immune system (file image)

The team say these figures are due to new therapies such as drugs that target genetic changes in tumors and or that fortify the immune system (file image)

The team say these figures are due to new therapies such as drugs that target genetic changes in tumors and or that fortify the immune system (file image)

In women, the improvements  in two-year survival rates were even starker, increasing from 35 percent in 2001 to 44 percent in 2014.

Additionally, improvements in two-year survival were seen for all races and ethnicities, despite concerns that the newer treatments may be too expensive and increase disparities. 

The researchers note that the decline in NSCLC mortality really started to pick up in 2013, around the same time  clinicians began routinely testing patients for genetic mutations, which were targeted by newly approved drugs. 

‘The survival benefit for patients with non-small cell lung cancer treated with targeted therapies has been demonstrated in clinical trials, but this study highlights the impact of these treatments at the population level,’ said lead author Dr Nadia Howlader, of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

‘We can now see the impact of advances in lung cancer treatment on survival.’

Source: Daily Mail

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