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NH study: Cancer victories masked by other successes

Union Leader Correspondent

January 16. 2014 12:49AM

LEBANON — A new Norris Cotton Cancer Center study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology says the United States is winning the war on cancer.

When you jointly measure cancer against other diseases, you can conclude there has been sustained progress for decades, said Samir Soneji, PhD, assistant professor for Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, a member of Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

“We are winning the war on cancer and we’ve been winning it for a long time, sustaining progress on many leading cancers for many years,” Soneji said.

Principal investigator Soneji and his colleagues — Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, PhD, and Harold C. Sox, MD — started the study in 2011, 40 years after President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act that established the National Cancer Institute.

This was the start of the war on cancer, Soneji said. Each year since, the National Cancer Institute estimated the country wasn’t winning.

But the measurements for the nation’s progress against cancer didn’t take into account other diseases, Soneji said.

“There have been these dramatic declines over time in heart disease and stroke and accidents as more and more people don’t die of these causes,” there are more and more incidences of cancer by default, Soneji said. “Cancer incidences have increased because we’re caring for other diseases better.”

For example a patient with cardiovascular disease may be able to prevent a heart attack through modern medications or treatments, saving the patient’s life. Years later that patient may be diagnosed with cancer.

According to the study published Monday, between 1970 and 2008, mortality rates from heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and accidents declined 62 percent, 73 percent, and 38 percent, respectively. In the same period, cancer mortality rates declined just 12 percent.

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