The American Cancer Society released a report on Monday that said while overall cancer deaths are down, two causes of common cancers, obesity and HPV, are driving more diagnoses and causing more illness. According to NBC News, both of these factors are preventable, but health officials aren’t doing enough to combat them.
Cancer is the number two killer of Americans, after heart disease. Recent years have seen steady declines in the rates of death by cancer. The American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries say that cancer death rates have fallen by 1.8 percent among men and children and by 1.4 percent among women each year between 2000 and 2009.
Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society said, “The fact that people are not dying of cancer is clear evidence of progress. But could have a much lower death rate from cancer if we simply got serious about doing all the things that work.”
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is being blamed for an upsurge in head and neck cancers, as well as anal cancer. The virus has long been known to be a primary cause of cervical cancer. More and more of these types of cancer are expected as the baby boomer generation marches into old age.
According to the report, “HPV-associated cancers accounted for 3.3 percent of all cancer cases among women and 2 percent of the total cancer cases among men diagnosed in 2009.”
Dr. Robert Haddad, chief of head and neck oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said, “We are seeing a large number of patients with HPV-associated head and neck cancer and these patients are relatively young, are typically non-smokers and quite often have children.”
Fortunately, head and neck cancers associated with HPV are easier to treat than those associated with smoking or heavy drinking. Dr. Joel Epstein of the City of Hope cancer center in Duarte, CA told NBC that 75 percent of head and neck cancers caused by HPV can be cured, compared to only 25 percent of those associated with smoking.
A vaccine is available against HPV, but conservative legislators at the local and national level are blocking teen girls and boys from receiving it.
NBC reports that less than a third of eligible teens have received the HPV vaccine. ”The report finds that 32 percent of girls aged 13 to 17 had gotten all three doses in 2010. Only about 1.4 percent of boys have had the shots. Expert advisers to the federal government say it’s worthwhile getting boys vaccinated, too, but states are not requiring it.”
In Alabama and Mississippi, only 20 percent of girls are vaccinated. These regions also boast the lowest percentage of women who have regular gynecologist exams and Pap smears, tests that track the emergence and growth of cancers.
“Coverage was statistically significantly lower among the uninsured and in some Southern states,” the report concluded.
As fewer and fewer Americans smoke tobacco, smoking is becoming less of a factor in cancers. Unfortunately, obesity is quickly overtaking it as a leading contributing factor to cancer.
“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. “We are not saying anything about that. That is a huge, huge cancer prevention effort that we haven’t gotten off the ground.”
Evidence suggests that poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity are to blame in more than a third of U.S. cancer cases, including colon, breast and pancreatic cancers. Most people in the U.S., according to surveys, are entirely unaware of this and are much more concerned about chemicals and environmental toxins, which, according to Dr. Graham Colditz of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, are only responsible for approximately 5 percent or less of cancer cases.
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