Deaths from cancer are continuing to decrease, according to a new report published Monday that also says cancer from obesity and the human papillomavirus (HPV) are increasing. As a result, some experts are predicting a new epidemic of head and neck cancer for baby boomers already infected with HPV.
The report finds that HPV-associated cancers accounted for a 3.3 percent of all cancer cases among women and two percent of the total cancer cases among men diagnosed in 2009, which adds up to 21,000 women and more than 13,000 men diagnosed with these cancers. Moreover, two cancers are on the rise – head and neck cancer and anal cancer – both of which are caused by HPV, says the report.
The good news is there’s a vaccine available for younger people to prevent HPV, which federal officials recommend for those between the ages of 11 to 17. The bad news is not nearly enough young Americans are getting the vaccine at anywhere near the recommended rates, according to the report, which also states that policymakers are doing far too little to fight obesity, which causes one-third of cancer cases.
Published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the report says rates of cancer diagnosis fell just slightly among men, stayed stable for women and went up by just over a one-half of a percent per year for children aged up to 14.
“The fact that people are not dying of cancer is clear evidence of progress,” said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society. “But could have a much lower death rate from cancer if we simply got serious about doing all the things that work.”
Although heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans, cancer follows closely in the number two spot.
“Over the next 10 years, a combination of high caloric intake and low physical activity is going to surpass tobacco as a cause of cancer deaths,” Brawley told NBC News. “We are not saying anything about that. That is a huge, huge cancer prevention effort that we haven’t gotten off the ground.”
Another well-known cause of cancer is smoking, which causes another third of cancers. However, smoking has decreased from 40 percent in the 1960s to around 20 percent today, which Brawley says is the reason for the current decrease in cancer deaths.
Brawley also blames the states and the federal government for not doing enough to further lower the rate of smoking. But he does not blame individuals as it pertains to diet and exercise, which he says are harder to tackle.
“It is socially unacceptable to smoke in many areas of the United States now,” he said. “I am not a skinny guy and I am cognizant of the problem that people have with food. This is something society needs to tackle instead of blaming the individual.”