Facts and Figures from 2018: Rate of Deaths From Cancer Continues Decline

Cancer mortality drops another 1.7%

The US death rate from cancer has declined steadily over the past 2 decades, according to annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society. According to the ACS, as of 2015, the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 26% from its peak in 1991. This decline in deaths translates to nearly 2.4 million averted during this time period.

The rate of new cancer diagnoses decreased by about 2% per year during the most recent decade of available data, in men and stayed about the same in women.

Cancer Statistics, 2018 published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the US this year. The estimates are some of the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world. The information is also released in a companion report, Cancer Facts and Figures 2018, available on the interactive website, the Cancer Statistics Center. A total of 1,735,350 new cancer cases and 609,640 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2018.

The drop in cancer mortality is thought to be mostly due to two major factors; steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment. A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates. However, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths, responsible for nearly 3 in 10 cancer deaths.

Major cancer types: Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer

The overall drop in cancer death rates is largely due to decreasing death rates for lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Prostate cancer death rates declined 52% from 1993 to 2015 among men. Routine screening with the PSA blood test is no longer recommended because of concerns about high rates of over-diagnosis (finding cancers that would never need to be treated). Therefore, fewer cases of prostate cancer are now being detected.

Lung cancer death rates declined 45% from 1990 to 2015 among men and 19% from 2002 to 2015 among women. From 2005 to 2014, the rates of new lung cancer cases dropped by 2.5% per year in men and 1.2% per year in women. The differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use, where women began smoking in large numbers many years later than men, and were slower to quit.

Breast cancer death rates declined 39% from 1989 to 2015 among women. The progress is attributed to improvements in early detection.

Colorectal cancer death rates declined 52% from 1970 to 2015 among men and women because of increased screening and improvements in treatment. However, between 2006 and 2015, the death rate among adults younger than 55 increased by 1% per year.

Erleada is approved by FDA for some prostate cancers

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has recently approved the drug Erleada to treat men with prostate cancer that has not yet spread, but has a quickly rising PSA level while on treatment with hormone therapy, causing a big concern for cancer growth and spread. Erleada is the first FDA-approved treatment for this high-risk type of prostate cancer which is called non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

The way Erleada works is that it blocks the effect of androgens, a type of hormone, on the tumor. Research has shown that androgens such as testosterone can help tumors grow.

The FDA based its decision to approve Erleada on a randomized clinical trial of 1,207 men with high-risk non-metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer. The trial measured the amount of time that the patients’ tumors did not spread (metastasize). While all of the men in the trial received hormone therapy, only some also received Erleada. The group of men who received Erleada had no metastasis for an average 40.5 months compared to metastasis in 16.2 months for the group of men who did not.

Erleada was approved under the FDA’s new priority review program. This new program is designed to speed up approval of drugs that would significantly improve the safety or effectiveness of treating, diagnosing, or preventing a serious condition.

Common side effects of Erleada include high blood pressure, fatigue, diarrhea, rash, nausea, joint pain, weight loss, falls, hot flashes, decreased appetite, fractures and swelling in the limbs. Additional possible side effects could include falls, fractures, and seizures.

Men who have had prostate cancer have an increased risk of certain cancers

A major concern of many cancer survivors is whether they will have to face cancer again. When a cancer comes back after treatment it is technically a “recurrence”. However some survivors may develop a new and unrelated cancer which is termed a “second cancer”.

Men who are being treated for prostate cancer can indeed get another cancer, and in fact they might be at higher risk for certain types including cancers of:

• The small intestine
• Soft tissue
• Bladder
• Thyroid
• Thymus
• Melanoma of the skin

In addition, men who are treated with radiation therapy also have a higher risk of:

• Rectal cancer
• Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

It is believed that the higher risk could be related to the dose of radiation.

There are ways to lower the risk of getting a second cancer

Prostate cancer patients can take steps to lower their risk of second cancers. One example is that prostate cancer survivors should do their best to stay away from all tobacco products and tobacco smoke. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of bladder cancer after prostate radiation, as well as increase the risk of many other cancers.

There are other steps to take to help maintain overall good health:

• Get to and stay at a healthy weight
• Stay physically active
• Eat a healthy diet focusing on fresh foods
• Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day

As an added bonus, taking steps may also lower the risk of other types of health issues.

Yoga can reduce treatment-related symptoms for men with prostate cancer

There are decades of research that show that yoga can reduce the emotional and physical fatigue brought on by cancer treatment. Scientists reported in 2017 that this is also true specifically for men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Researchers found that men who took a yoga class twice a week during prostate cancer radiation treatment reported less fatigue, fewer sexual side effects, and better urinary functioning than men who did not.

The research team that studied this connection enrolled 50 men ages 53 to 85 who were diagnosed with early or advanced non-metastatic prostate cancer. Of them, 22 were assigned to yoga classes and the rest did not participate in yoga. All the men received scheduled radiation treatments; 29 of them were also on hormonal therapy, and 19 had been treated previously with surgery. The yoga and control groups were evenly balanced with respect to various cancer treatments as well as treatments for side effects.

Eischens yoga was the type of yoga assessed in the study. It focuses on holding and maintaining poses, and is accessible for all body types and experience levels. The yoga sessions each lasted 75 minutes. The men in the nine-week study were asked to rate their fatigue, sexual and urinary symptoms before, during and after the study ended.

The male participants in the yoga group reported improving or stabilizing symptom scores over time, whereas men in the non-yoga group reported worsening symptoms. The study authors speculated that yoga improves erectile and urinary function by strengthening core muscles and improving blood flow.

Is it possible that a good diet can help fight prostate cancer?

“If I eat a healthier diet can it help me fight prostate cancer?” This is a question men newly-diagnosed with prostate cancer often ask their doctors.

There have been several studies that have shown that in countries where men eat a typical “Western” diet containing a large amount of meat, the incidence of prostate cancer, especially aggressive prostate cancer, is higher than in countries where plant-based foods are a primary part of the diet.

Although researchers are currently studying the subject, there a no definitive answers between the correlation of prostate cancer and diet.

There was a federally-funded national study where investigators looked at whether a diet that’s higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods than the typical “Western diet would help control tumor growth in men with early-stage prostate cancer.

This study called The Men’s Eating and Living (MEAL), included men 50-80 years old who had small, low-grade tumors and who opted to have their condition followed closely (active surveillance) rather than undergoing immediate treatment. The researchers randomly assigned participants telephone counseling support to tell them how to achieve the dietary MEAL goals or to a control group that received standard dietary advice for Americans.

The study participants in the MEAL group were instructed to eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily — significantly more than the three to four servings consumed each day by the typical American man — as well as two servings of whole grains and one serving of beans or other legumes. The participants in the control group received information regarding a standard healthy diet.

The initial results of the study showed that men with prostate cancer can sustain a healthier eating pattern. However there was no significant effect of the MEAL diet on two-year clinical progression among men on active surveillance for prostate cancer. Longer term benefits are still possible.

Heart attack risk is increased by some prostate cancer treatments

Patients who have suffered a heart attack and plan to undergo prostate cancer treatment, may want to weigh the risks and benefits of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). ADT decreases the amount of androgens in the body, which prostate cancer needs to grow and survive. This therapy is also often used in combination with radiation therapy. The combination of these two therapies has been shown to prolong survival in men with unfavorable-risk prostate cancer—defined as cancer with two or more high-risk factors, such as a PSA level between 10 and 40 ng/mL, a Gleason score of 7 or higher, or biopsies with 50% or higher cancerous cells.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that men who had a prior heart attack can experience increased risks of having another fatal heart attack if they undergo both radiation therapy and ADT.

Researchers compared overall survival and death from prostate cancer, fatal heart attack, and other causes in a group of 206 men with unfavorable-risk prostate cancer. The men received either radiation alone, or radiation and six months of ADT. The researchers also categorized the men into subgroups based on other health conditions, including heart disease.

After a 16-year follow-up, researchers found that among the subgroup who had a previous heart attack, treatment with both radiation and ADT reduced their 15-year survival rate to 8%, compared with 20% for those who were treated only with radiation.

These findings may suggest that doctors should rethink using this combination of therapies on men with known heart disease.

When can you stop being checked for prostate cancer?

Your current health and your level of concern about cancer are both big factors in the answer to this question.

Despite what the experts suggest, many men are continuing to opt for annual PSA tests. Surprisingly this includes a large number of men in their 70s. According to a recent study, more than half of a group of men 75 and older in the study had PSA tests and biopsies.

Even though these men have placed their hope in the value of early diagnosis and treatment, they stand to gain less from PSA testing than younger men. Routine PSA screening across ALL ages leads to life-saving treatment for cancer in about one in every 1,000 men screened.

Guidelines for ages

American Urological Association (AUA) age guidelines: The AUA does not recommend routine PSA screening for men 70 or older or with a life expectancy of less than 10 to 15 years. Screening may be considered in men ages 55 to 69 with the knowledge that it will prevent about one cancer death for every 1,000 men screened.

Expert guidelines don’t recommend PSA screening in men 70 and older. Because of their more limited lifespan, these men are less likely to benefit from early detection of low-risk cancer. One reason is that there may be simply less time for the condition to become life threatening in most men.

American Cancer Society (ACS) age guidelines:
The ACS does not recommend PSA testing for men with no symptoms who are not expected to live more than 10 years (because of age or poor health).

Having a chronic health condition also reduces the potential benefit of early diagnosis and treatment even further, since it tends to shorten lifespan. In contrast, an exceptionally healthy man in his 70s may choose to keep having PSA tests, betting on a longer life-span that provides more time to benefit from early detection.

Tips to adapt to life after cancer

Some patients find that adjusting to a “new normal” after treatment can be challenging

The end of cancer treatment is often a time to rejoice. Patients are relieved to be finished with the demands of treatment and are looking forward to putting the experience behind them. When the treatment ends it can still take time for patients to recover. They may have permanent body scars, and many patients are not able to do some of the things that they easily did in their “pre-cancer” life.

However, even though their treatments are “over”, many patients continue to feel sad and worried. They are focused on concerns about whether the cancer will come back. Emotional scars from going through so much trauma are common. Cancer patients many times view themselves “differently” and think that friends and family members also look at them in a new way.

Here are some tips that cancer patients may find helpful in dealing with the “new normal”:
1. Get good follow-up care from your physicians
2. Ask for help developing a wellness plan that includes ways to take care of your physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
3. Consider complementary/alternative medicine to prevent illness, reduce stress, or prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms.
4. Some patients find that couples counseling, faith or spiritual counseling or family support programs are helpful.
5. State and local governments offer many services that include home care services that help with housework or cooking.
6. Strength-building exercises can help you feel better and can improve mood.
7. Exercise of all types can help people reduce stress and feel less tense and happier.
8. Cancer support groups can help you share feelings and concern and can reduce the feelings of loneliness.

Men who need aggressive prostate cancer treatment may benefit from new way of identification via PSA test

PSA tests (prostate-specific antigen) are widely used in the United States to help identify men who may have a higher risk of prostate cancer. A recent study published by JAMA Oncology has described a unique new way to use the PSA test. The hope is that men who are likely to die early from prostate cancer which returns after an initial treatment, are able to be clearly pinpointed.

Data from a randomized trial of 157 men whose localized cancer was treated either with radiation alone or radiation combined with six months of androgen deprivation therapy was used by the researchers. The participants were then followed for 18 years post-trial.

The data collected during this trial showed that a PSA nadir — the lowest level a PSA reading drops after treatment — greater than 0.5 ng/ml appears to identify men who are at high risk for dying early as a result of their initial treatment failing.

Approximately 66% of all prostate cancer deaths in this country occur in males with localized cancer that ultimately spreads to other places in the body. This new method of using PSA testing can help doctors identify men who may benefit from more aggressive secondary treatment. It also may help get them this treatment earlier.

There can be risks from supplements and herbal remedies used for prostate cancer

Experts urge men to be cautious of employing natural remedies instead of medicine therapy.

It is never easy for men to cope with prostate cancer. Some find that established treatments are not all that effective, leading them to try other “more natural methods” for the treatment of the cancer. Men are cautioned, however, to talk to their doctors before taking new herbs or supplements.

It has been estimated that 33% of men in America who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer try at least one form of alternative/complementary medicine therapy which includes supplements and herbs. There are some studies that have suggested that the use of certain herbs and supplements might actually be beneficial to prostate cancer treatment and support. However, many doctors are concerned that certain herbs mixed with certain supplements can cause unwanted interactions. There have also been cases where herbs and supplements have reacted negatively with prescribed medications.

St. John’s wort is one example. It can affect the liver and can act on certain enzymes in the liver which metabolize drugs.

Many men have taken saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Others have tried melatonin supplements in the hopes that it will slow the progression of prostate cancer. Both saw palmetto and melatonin may increase a man’s risk of bleeding when taken with other drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, anticoagulants, or antiplatelet medications.

It has not been proven that any herbs or supplements actually protect against prostate cancer or slow its growth. Some think that the inverse may actually be true.

What’s the bottom line? Unfortunately herbs and supplements are not miracle workers. “Some” may benefit “some men” with prostate disease. To be safe, all men should consult with their doctor about whether the physician supports any alternative choice of treatment, management, and prevention.