According to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, one can easily see that we have been making progress in the treatment of certain tumors. Unfortunately, further analysis of this report also shows that the rates of human papillomavirus-related cancers are still quite high.
Overall things are definitely looking better, as there are now lower cancer rates among both genders, and across all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. for the most common forms of cancer (including prostate, breast, colon, and lung cancer). On the other hand, the rates of HPV-related cancers, which include cervical cancer, remain high in comparison, despite vaccines capable of preventing the viral infection which can trigger the disease.
FDA Approves Vaccine against HPV in 2006
In 2006, the FDA approved the first vaccine which is capable of protecting against the strains of HPV that can trigger both cervical cancer and genital warts. Not long after that, the CDC added this HPV vaccine, known as Gardasil, to the national lineup of recommended childhood vaccinations.
Originally, health care officials had recommended that the vaccine be given to girls before they became sexually active, but this was not with approval from many parents. In fact, some parents took to labeling the vaccination as the “promiscuity vaccine,” believing that it would promote more sexual activity. A review of the number of girls that actually received the vaccination shows that our immunization rates are lagging compared to other countries like the U.K., Australia, and Canada.
These shots have been proven effective at controlling the most common strains responsible for inducing cervical cancer in patients. In fact, public-health care officials still view this vaccine as a crucial tool in preventing higher rates of these cancers. Studies have shown that the rates of HPV-associated cancers dropped amongst all women except Alaska Natives and American Indians from 2000 to 2009. The vaccination rates had been comparably low within those last two groups.
Vaccinations for a Broader Demographic
On the other hand, this anticancer vaccine doesn’t just benefit girls or women. An oncologist could tell you that the same virus which causes cervical cancer could also be responsible for oral and anal cancers. For that reason, the CDC has also recommended this shot for boys between the ages of 11 and 12 as well. Health care officials would like to see more people vaccinated against these HPV infections. They are no longer unique to certain populations around the world, and now all demographics are experiencing these HPV infections, which is one reason that there are a higher number of anal cancers. Unfortunately, this just isn’t a topic that has interested the media that much.
This has become a point of great frustration for health care officials and cancer experts alike, as these HPV-related cancers happen to be quite preventable with the appropriate level of vaccination. Unfortunately, many people have gotten the wrong idea about this vaccine, and believe that it could cause some severe side effects in their children. At one point, Representative Michele Bachmann even claimed that there was a link between this HPV vaccination and mental retardation. All of this erroneous speculation has only added to parents’ trepidation over these vaccines. So, this is the current hurdle that health care providers must overcome if they want to produce more declines in these cancer rates.
The Status of Cancer-Related Death
Fortunately, this report has shown that from 2000 to 2009, the rate of death due to cancer has declined overall and is still dropping (1.4% among women, 1.8% among men, and 1.8% among children up to the age of 14). The report shows that for both men and women, declines are occurring among many of the most common forms of cancer including breast, prostate, colon, lung, and leukemia. On the other hand, death rates appear to be climbing for cancers such as pancreatic, skin, and liver cancer among men, and women have an increased risk of dying from liver, pancreatic, and uterine cancers.
Rates of New Cancers amongst Men, Women, and Children
The report has shown a more varied pattern when looking at the rates of new cancers for the same time period. On average, there appears to be a decrease of about 0.6% per year for new diagnoses amongst men. While diagnostic rates have remained stable, there does appear to be an increase of about 0.6% per year for new cancer cases amongst children.
The observed drops in diagnosis amongst men could be explained by the fewer cases of lung, prostate, stomach, rectum, and larynx cancers that were diagnosed. Women also experienced fewer new cases of these cancers as well, but this drop was offset by increases in melanoma, thyroid, pancreas, kidney, liver, leukemia, and uterine cancers.
Cancer experts are hopeful that this report will help motivate more people to become aware of the potential risk factors for cancer. Things such as smoking, poor dietary habits, and prolonged sun exposure can all play a role in the development of cancer. Health care officials would also like to see more people taking steps to protect themselves against tumors, such as getting vaccinated against HPV. Such precautions require little effort, but the rewards are potentially huge.