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Cancer remains a dreaded diagnosis, but there's heartening news. America is showing great progress against some of the most deadly forms of the disease, particularly lung cancer and the aggressive skin cancer melanoma.

Researchers have reported the largest-ever one-year decline in the U.S. cancer death rate, a drop of 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. The rate has fallen resoundingly--nearly 30 percent--from 1991 to 2017, affecting nearly 3 million lives. Anyone who lost a loved one to cancer in that quarter-century can applaud this progress.

What drove the improvement? Both personal choices and medical advances contributed, researchers say. Lung cancer is by far the biggest killer of the cancers, and smoking--which is also implicated in other types of cancer--has been declining for decades. There are powerful new ways to diagnose and treat lung cancer, and even patients with advanced disease are living longer.

Skin cancer death rates dropped even more dramatically, falling 7 percent annually in recent years, thanks to improved drug treatments, the report said.

The report came with some cautions: Death rates have increased for some cancers linked to obesity, including those of the thyroid, pancreas and uterus.

On the positive side, the decline in smoking cigarettes, not-that-affectionately known as cancer sticks, should continue to pay off for years to come. The HPV vaccine will continue its march against cervical cancer. Immunotherapy shows great promise.

And researchers keep chasing innovations in treatment. The Wall Street Journal reports on an approach harnessing ideas from evolution and--stay with us here--pest control. The approach aims to reduce tumors by just 25 percent to 50 percent and make the cancer manageable and leave some in place, but without empowering the bad cells that manage to survive.

Cancer is complicated, and the solutions are, too. Bad habits, pollution and complex risk factors like obesity won't just go away. But this record year of improvements shows that better choices and investment in more effective--and less destructive--ways to diagnose and heal are making a dent. Wouldn't it be nice to see The Big C downgraded from nemesis to nuisance?

Editorial on 01/14/2020

Print Headline: Quitters sometimes win

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