AUSTIN, Texas — The rate of people dying from cancer in the U.S. has declined over the past three decades, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. The U.S. cancer death rate has fallen 33% since 1991, and Texas is also seeing this downward trend.
"As the population of Texas grows, we are seeing more cancer diagnoses and more deaths," said Dr. Mammen Sam, chair of the Texas Medical Association Committee on Cancer. "[But the] overall rate of deaths is coming down."
This downward trend in the number of cancer-related deaths is seen despite the Lone Star State having the highest rate of uninsured people. Advancements in medicine and technology have contributed to this downward trend.
"We have vaccines like the HPV vaccine, which reduces the risk of both cervical cancer and many head and neck cancers," Dr. Mammen said. "We have better screening now."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people getting screened for cancer dropped drastically, according to the National Cancer Institute. Many screening facilities closed temporarily, while others faced severe staffing shortages. Also, people were afraid to go to hospitals and other medical facilities for fear of catching COVID-19.
"I know people are doing telemedicine," said Angela Kueck, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin North and St. David's North Austin Medical Center. "But that doesn't work as well for us. And we need to see women do a pap smear and an exam. So, a lot of women did push it off."
The impacts of pushing routine checks are being seen.
"And so we're still starting to see a lot of people come in to catch up on those things and are picking up some cancers, you know, a little later than we might have a couple of years ago," Kueck said.
Kueck said one of her patients went to get checked in the middle of 2021 when the pandemic was still in full swing. If she didn't come in for her routine check, her cervical cancer would've progressed and she wouldn't be telling her story of success today.
"I'm one year into remission, which is awesome," Jennifer Healey said. "I just celebrated that on Jan. 7, so I'm excited to have one year under my belt."
Healey said she had to undergo some aggressive treatment and it was tough, but she's turned the page and is grateful she caught it when they did.
"Make sure that you get in for those screenings that are so important," she said. "It's truly the only way to catch something that might be going on. This type of cancer doesn't have any real physical symptoms that are obvious. When you do start having symptoms with this type of cancer, typically it's progressed pretty far."