Each January, the American Cancer Society reports the latest cancer statistics in the U.S. The 2015 data confirms yet again that cancer is one of our top health problems, with more than 1.6 million new diagnoses and a major cause of death-nearly 590,000 deaths. Guarded optimism can be gleaned from the finding that cancer incidence has remained stable in U.S. women and actually decreased by 1.8 percent per year for U.S. men over each of the last five years. Even more promising is the observation that cancer mortality has decreased by 1.4 percent per year for women and 1.8 percent per year for men over the same time period. The major cancers in adults continue to be lung and colon cancer for both men and women, prostate cancer for men, and breast cancer for women. Progress is far slower than we would like, but it is palpable.
This year's analysis gives us the opportunity to drill down on the situation in Pennsylvania. Citizens of the Commonwealth frequently suffer from several of the most common risk factors for cancer – tobacco use, a high incidence of obesity and, especially in western Pennsylvania, an aging population. About 81,000 Pennsylvanians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2015 – about 10,000 each with breast, lung and prostate cancer – and sadly nearly 29,000 will succumb to their illness. That includes 7,500 to lung cancer alone. Though we can take pride that cancer death rates in Pennsylvania have dropped by 21 percent from 1990-1992 until 2011, all of us can see that there is much work to do.
Over the last 18 months, we at University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and UPMC CancerCenter have worked especially hard to understand the nuances of cancer in our part of the state and used this understanding to refine our directions. Here are some of the things we have done:
- We have examined smoking rates county by county and are supporting ongoing research in tobacco cessation.
- We have launched a new initiative to unravel the biological connections between obesity and so many types of cancer in the hope that understanding and optimizing energy balance will help to prevent cancer in the well population and improve outcomes for cancer survivors.
- We are engaged in collaborations with the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Aging to elucidate the molecular pathways that connect aging with increased cancer to try to promote healthy aging.
- We are promoting appropriate cancer screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancers and gearing up to provide lung cancer screening via low dose CAT scans for high risk smokers.
- We are supporting vaccination against cancer-causing viruses like hepatitis B and human papilloma virus (HPV).
And, of course, we continue our critical mission of bringing the best evidence-based, research-driven, and, most importantly, patient-centered treatment to all who seek our care across our region.
As one of the nation's 41 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers - and the only one in western Pennsylvania – we are proud that we are in the vanguard as we embrace President Obama's call for precision medicine in 2015 and beyond. Behind each of the 2015 statistics is an individual patient with a unique illness and a personal story. Our goal is to strive to make sure that some day, each story will have a happy ending.