Cancer Treatment: It's Always Something (and a Book Giveaway)
Crabby Old Lady and Protest/Donation Fatigue

Encouraging News: U.S. Cancer Death Rate Has Dropped. Again.

Here's something I didn't know about cancer and I'll bet you didn't know either until now:

”...the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with the disease is slightly higher for men than for women, with adult height accounting for about a third of the difference. Studies have shown that taller people have a greater risk of cancer.

Hmmph. Being only 5 feet, two inches tall didn't help me.

It's still a great little factoid to have and it is from a story in the Washington Post about the annual report from the American Cancer Society - this year titled Cancer Facts and Figures 2018.

You're probably not surprised to know that since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last June, I've become more interested in cancer generally so I've been looking at news stories more carefully.

The disease, in its many forms, has been frustratingly difficult to treat, let alone cure – physicians have been trying to do so since at least 2500 BC. In the four-plus millennia that have followed, science has been able to reduce the incidences of many childhood diseases, of tuberculosis and of small pox, for example, to almost none.

But cancer, the number two killer in the United States, continues to be intractable.

Even so and as excruciatingly slow as it is, there has been positive change. The Post again:

”Overall, the cancer death rate has dropped from 215.1 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 158.6 per 100,000 in 2015.

“The nation's overall cancer death rate declined 1.7 percent in 2015, the latest indication of steady, long-term progress against the disease, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society.

“Over nearly a quarter-century, the mortality rate has fallen 26 percent, resulting in almost 2.4 million fewer deaths than if peak rates had continued...

“Even so, an estimated 609,000 people are expected to die of the ailment this year, while 1.74 million will be diagnosed with it.

Here is a chart of the number deaths from certain cancers expected during 2018:


After heart disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death overall in the U.S. but there are disparities of varying degrees among racial and age groups. As the Post notes, the 2015 mortality rate was 14 percent higher in blacks than white, but was 33 percent at its peak in 1993. However,

”...that trend masks significant disparities among age groups. Among people 65 and older, the death rate for blacks was 7 percent higher than for whites, a smaller disparity that likely reflects the effects of Medicare's universal health-care access.

“Among Americans younger than 65, the mortality rate was almost a third higher among blacks than whites — with even larger disparities in many states.”

Eventually, cancer affects just about everyone in the United States. Forty percent of Americans will, in their lifetimes, be diagnosed with one form of the disease or another making it almost impossible for anyone but a hermit to not have a relative, friend or neighbor who is afflicted.

In my case, both my parents died of cancer – breast and liver for my mother; liver and pancreatic for my father. Although I'm grateful to have been extraordinarily healthy throughout my 76 years until the diagnosis, it's hard to see how I could escape the family fate especially since I smoked for many years.

When I underwent a simultaneous endoscopy and colonoscopy last week to determine the details of an internal bleed, I was asked – as I had been just prior to my Whipple surgery in June – to give permission for the doctors to remove some small pieces of tissue for study.

Of course, I agreed both times. It's the least I can do to help researchers coax this “emperor of all maladies” to give up its horrible secrets.

The full report from the American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2018, is available here.


Thank you for your (tissue) contribution to cancer research, Ronni, and thanks for the posting. I followed your link, from which web page I followed their link to "Cancer Facts & Figures 2018". It was particularly interesting to read the section on smoking. My husband had three uncles who smoked. Each died of lung cancer as did at least two of their wives (who also smoked). They all contributed tissue and testing results to cancer research - which would have been in the 1970s.

So far, I haven't sussed out how much (if any) of the difference in mortality statistics between the white population and the black population may be attributable to (if any) difference in smoking rates.

The hardest thing for me is watching the St. Jude commercials. While it is sad for adults to have cancer it is horrible for children.

btw my daughter's cat has cancer, being treated by a chemo pill and prednisone.

This reminds me of a discussion I had with a former boss, almost 20 years ago, when he said that cancer was eventually going to get us all. I didn't necessarily doubt that, but at the time I knew more people who had died due to heart attacks, strokes or accidents. Today the obituaries in my local paper seem to be filled with people who are dying due to cancer, overdoses, complications related to Alzheimer's or other dementias (another scourge whose cause and cure seems to elude us) or an unexplained "sudden illness."

Last week, my 87 year old mother tripped over a pile of laundry and dislocated her shoulder. She was in the hospital for a week and now in a rehab facility. During all of this, her dementia has rapidly worsened. Before that, she and her 91 year-old husband had been living fairly independently, still in their own home. How quickly life changes course.

I hope that you have had, or will soon have, good news from your tests, and that your condition continues to improve with minimal intervention. It was good of you to allow yourself to contribute to medical science's research on this disease. I'm sure every bit of knowledge gained helps.

Keep on keeping on!

My new doctor and I had a similar discussion last week. Her husband is an oncologist and the most often asked question by his patients is, "Why me? I never smoked, drank, etc..." I told her the question should really be, "Why not me?" since cancer is so prevalent in our society. You are so right, it seems to touch someone we know.

I do wonder if fewer people knew of cancer in previous decades because they died before it was diagnosed, or they died of some other event, like childbirth, at an earlier age.

Fascinating information, Ronni. Thank you for telling us about it.

For some reason, even though I smoked and did other things that might facilitate cancer development, I've been spared that one. ( My family heritage went in another direction to find intractable problems.)

Your post just gives me more admiration for those who face this disease with courage.

I too was given the opportunity to donate tissue and case information to cancer research, and of course I did. As an adoptee, I don't know how genetics figured in, if at all, but who knows, at 5'8" maybe it was inevitable!

My mother, both brothers and husband all succumbed to cancer, so I'm so glad the cancer rate is falling, though it's small comfort to those who have it. The incidence of Alzheimer's, though, has fallen not one whit since it was given a name in 1905.

My mother in law and father in law died from cancer in their 60s. Both of them smoked and ate fat, fried and carb heavy foods. My husband has outlived both of them by not smoking and living a more healthy lifestyle but the specter of cancer is still in his mind. It is difficult to know what is genetics.

Thank you for sharing your travel through the cancer “adventure “. My husband had two required but non-life threatening surgeries last year and it was an eye opener for me. The medicine management, the doctor’s visits, the unexpected runs to the ER, the mental fuzziness from the meds, and the disappearance of any social life. But was much less than what cancer recovery looks like.

Your blog helps me to better understand what some friends have gone through in their cancer struggles and why they turn inward so much. It will help me be a better friend in the future. Hugs

While being a smoker obviously contributes to lung cancer there are strange exceptions. My late husband started smoking as a teenager and only quit for two years when the surgeon general made public the dangers of smoking. He foolishly started up again. He was not only a lifetime smoker, but a two pack a day smoker.

He was diagnosed with malignant brain tumors when he was 62. The oncologist was positive that they must have metastasized from his lungs given his smoking history. Not so. His lungs were clear. Hard to understand.
It's no wonder that it's difficult to find a cure

My husband died of brain cancer (glioblastoma) same as John McCain, Bo Biden and Ted Kennedy. It is always fatal. Unfortunately it is a bad one to get for this reason. I know they're always working on all cancers. It just seems so slow going

I sometimes wonder if the diagnosis of Cancer is too broad for research and possible cures and even perhaps vaccines to be on the horizon. There must be at least two dozen different types of cancers. For instance my husband has had numerous skin cancers, Basel and squamous but thankfully no melanoma. His brother died with lung cancer and my aunt with colon cancer. And so on and on.

Dear Ronni, it seems to me that your blog, since last June, when you got your diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, has done so much good for so many of us. Your journey with the disease has taught me so much and has taken some of the terror away from the word. Thank you. Peace.

Don't discount Karma in our battles with cancer. Three people whom I knew well died of lung cancer during the same period. Only one of them had ever smoked. That's one reason I now avoid as much as possible all diagnostic or screening procedures. I guess I've become convinced that one either lives or dies (obvious, I know) and that all the chemo in the world won't save me if my time is up. On the other hand, if my time is not up, why torture myself and enrich Big Medicine if my Karma is still strong enough to save me. One doctor (40 years ago) rather snarkily accused me of sticking my head in the sand. I replied that the view was better from underground.

Thanks for your sharing here and donating tissue for science. I am a strong believer in the more we can know about our bodies and mind functioning the better off we can be. Being aware of our genetic history is important though not always predictive. Screening can result in catching problems early which seems wise to me.

Incidental diagnosis in screenibg tests for other problems can sometimes occur, too, as I learned some years ago. Diagnostic knowledge can provide an opportunity to maximize quality of life “in spite of”, even increase longevity. I guess we each have our own mindsets on how willing we are to deal with reality. For some, avoidance of risking learning such information can be the easiest path to cope as though “what I don’t know can’t hurt me”.

Prevention within living a common sense lifestyle as my mother recommended, “moderation in all things”, has seemed wise. We all go over the traces sometimes. But even then, why we develop some medical problems remains unknown. How we choose to live with knowledge of that problem, any choices we may have, becomes our challenge. I respect the choices you’ve made and anticipate a positive long term outcome for you.

Just to clarify what I was attempting to say in my comment (without much success, I guess), I did not mean to suggest that my way of coping is to say that what I don't know won't hurt me. I certainly know that it can hurt me and may very well do. I am just saying that, for me, it is better to live my private and personal life my way until and unless it does. There is nothing that ruins the quality of life more---again, in my opinion---than multiple trips to doctors, laboratories, specialists and, especially, hospitals which I consider the pits of hell. There is no conceivable benefit---again, in my opinion---in living like that when, at 83, I know that I am going to die soon anyway. I am not suggesting that my Karmic view is in any way a prescription for everyone. Obviously, it is not. For myself, in fact, I made an exception in order to get regular injections in my eye to hold back macular degeneration. But that's because loss of vision is a greater evil than the nuisance and pain of these visits to a retina specialist.

Coming back this morning to catch up on comments left since early yesterday, the references to glioblastoma reminded me of one of my favorite Bette Davis movies. I was never actually much of a fan of hers until about twenty years ago when, in the days of video rental stores, I came across a display of several and went on a mission of watching every one. If you haven't seen Dark Victory, it's a good one to watch. Whether you might need a good cry, or to be temporarily removed from the world as we know it these days, this trip back into the world of 1939 can satisfy both of those. And Ronald Reagan makes an interesting drunken playboy, so there's always that. How Bette's character of Judith progresses and the choices she makes in the face of the sudden diagnosis of brain cancer is an interesting study.

And I would concur with much of what Emma Jay has said here. What used to be the military-industrial complex has clearly added the "medical" component that leaves me wanting to avoid it as much as possible. Even if that were not the case, our bodies are remarkable machines that spend much more time healing and maintaining themselves than in succumbing to things that would destroy them, and, in my opinion, the less intervention in this process, the better. Obviously when things have gone terribly awry and self-healing is no longer working, other choices are out there, and sometimes that choice is taken out of our hands.

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