Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 230,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and that 135,720 people will die from the disease.
The reduction in annual death rates was twice as large between 2013 and 2016 as in the seven years before that. Two-year survival increased from 26 percent for men diagnosed with the disease in 2001 to 35 percent for those diagnosed in 201
The trend “correlates with [Food and Drug Administration] “Approval of several targeted therapies for this cancer in recent years,” said Douglas R. Lowy, NCI’s Deputy Director and co-author of the study released on Wednesday, in a statement.
In recent years, new treatments for non-small cell lung cancer have emerged that target genetic mutations or changes, including those commonly referred to as EGFR or ALK. The doctors also began routine tests of patients to determine the best treatments.
The study focused on non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 76 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States, and small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 13 percent. The researchers found that the death rate from small cell lung cancer also decreased in recent years, but at about the same rate as decreasing in new cases. This suggests that reducing smoking is responsible for the reduced mortality levels. Researchers have found it much more difficult to find successful treatments for small cell lung cancer than for non-small cell lung cancer.
Nadia Howlader, the researcher who led the study, said the most important takeaway, “is that lung cancer is not a disease, it is a collection of many diseases. It is very important for patients to talk to their doctors about the type of lung cancer they have.”
The researchers investigated whether a lung cancer test – where a patient undergoes a low-dose CT scan to detect possible malignancies in the lung – helped drive the reductions in non-small cell death rates for lung cancer. However, they concluded that the screening rate, which remained low and stable, did not explain the reduction in mortality.
Roy Herbst, a lung cancer expert at the Yale Cancer Center who was not involved in the study, said the data support what he has witnessed in his practice.
“We are making amazing progress in the leading cause of death,” Herbst said. “But it is not good enough. We still have a lot of work to do. “
Herbst said doctors need to encourage patients to get genetic tests. “Only about 70 percent of patients get the profile done,” he said. The goal, he added, is to increase the use of targeted therapies in patients who are in earlier stages of their disease.
He said he expects further improvements in deaths as they begin to reflect the effects of widespread use of immunotherapy for certain types of lung cancer. The advent of immunotherapy, which is designed to march the body’s immune system against cancer, is not reflected in the new study’s statistics, the researchers say.
A disadvantage of targeted therapies is that patients’ malignancies often become resistant to these therapies, which requires a transition to another targeted medication or type of treatment.
The targeted therapies that have been approved in recent years include Tagrisso, also known by the generic name osimertinib, and Xalkori, also known as crizotinib. Other targeted therapies have also been approved.
The death rate from cancer in the United States decreased by 29 percent from 1991 to 2017, including a decrease of 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest single decline ever recorded, the American Cancer Society reported this year.