One of the important responsibilities of the National Cancer Institute is communicating our nation’s progress against cancer to the public. The Cancer Trends Progress Report is a significant part of that dissemination process. This web-based report provides up-to-date information on a range of cancer control topics—from disease prevention to the impact of deaths from cancer—and data that track the successful application of selected areas of cancer research into practice.
The Cancer Trends Progress Report draws on data from numerous federal departments and agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and several offices and agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This report is developed with consultation from federal partners, consumer advocates, non-profits, and others.
As the report details, the nation is making progress toward major cancer-related targets. The rate of death from all cancers combined continues to decline among both men and women, among all major racial and ethnic groups, and for the most common types of cancer, including lung, colon, female breast, and prostate cancers.
This steady improvement reflects progress in diagnosing certain cancers at an earlier stage through screening and improvements in treatment. In the area of tobacco control, since the early 1990s, the rate of secondhand smoke exposure has decreased significantly as the proportion of smoke-free homes and persons covered by indoor worksite policies prohibiting smoking has risen.
Despite these improvements, the nation is losing ground in other important areas that demand attention. While there has been a significant decline in the use of traditional cigarettes among youth over the past decade, research has shown that the use of other tobacco products continues to climb. This report, for the first time, includes the use of e-cigarettes and will track this use over time.
A substantial proportion of cancers could be prevented by behavioral choices, making prevention a key focus of the report. Up to one-third of cancer cases in the United States are related to excess weight or obesity, physical inactivity, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could be prevented. Cancers caused by cigarette smoking and heavy use of alcohol are largely preventable. Certain cancers related to infectious agents, such as oncogenic types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the hepatitis B and C viruses, and the human immunodeficiency virus, could be prevented through behavioral changes or the use of protective vaccinations or antiviral treatments. For example, HPV vaccines prevent persistent infection by the most common types of HPV that cause cancer. Even so, not enough children in the United States are being properly vaccinated against HPV. Only 42 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys aged 13-17 years received the recommended three-dose HPV vaccine series in 2015.
This report also tracks exposure to carcinogens that exist as pollutants in our air, food, water, and soil, including arsenic, benzene, cadmium, and nitrate. Beginning this year, the report examines exposure to radon, a radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoke.
To help advance improvements in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, a Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific experts, cancer leaders, and patient advocates was convened as a working group of the National Cancer Advisory Board to inform the scientific direction and goals of Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot initiative. The panel provided recommendations on how to fast track efforts to develop cancer vaccines, highly sensitive approaches to early detection, enhanced data sharing, and culturally appropriate, effective intervention programs for targeted populations, among other areas. The Cancer Trends Progress Report can be used by researchers and cancer control professionals to elicit research ideas and set priorities for cancer control program planning to advance cancer control progress.
As the number of cancer survivors grows and expected survival time increases, the health behaviors of these individuals are becoming an important focus of attention. Adoption or maintenance of healthy lifestyles after a cancer diagnosis has the potential to reduce both cancer- and non-cancer-related morbidity. This update of the Cancer Trends Progress Report expands the topic of cancer survivors’ physical activity by examining not only the percentage of adults who report leisure-time physical activity but also those who meet current federal guidelines for aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening activity.
Finally, the economic burden of cancer is considerable and important to monitor. As the U.S. population ages and newer technologies and treatments become available, national expenditures for cancer will continue to rise. National and state cancer control strategies should be informed by evidence concerning economic burden and statistical models of the impact of interventions.
We at NCI, along with our Cancer Trends Progress Report partners, hope that you will find this report to be a valuable reference tool and a stimulus for action. We must not forget that the numbers in this report reflect the lives and struggles of millions of our fellow citizens. NCI remains committed to advancing scientific progress and facilitating its application on behalf of each of them.
Robert Croyle, Ph.D.
Director, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences
National Cancer Institute