PHOENIX -- Some exciting news in the fight against cancer deaths. We could see a dramatic drop in death rates, but as it turns out, that also means we need to take the fight into our own hands.
"They came up with a figure that by the year 2030, we may see a reduction in cancer death rates by about 17 percent," he said.
That study showed, among other dramatic drops, a 43 percent reduction in death rates for ovarian cancer, 30 percent for breast cancer, and 9 percent for lung cancer.
Wascher said those predictions are based on advances over the last several decades, including better screenings, especially mammograms, pap smears, colorectal, and prostate exams.
"We know screening for those particular cancers do reduce the risk of dying from those cancers," Wascher said.
And that has combined with new advances in targeted therapies.
"Now we are not just talking about treating breast cancer in general," Wascher said. "We are talking about treating this patient’s breast cancer with this genetic abnormality or that abnormality."
Radiation treatments are more accurately targeted now as well, which Wascher said has added up to more lives saved.
"At this point in time if you look at all patients with cancer, about 67 percent, or two-thirds of them, will be alive and free of cancer five years later," he said. "That is a historically high number."
But here is the bad news. Wascher said we may be sabotaging our own success.
"Thirty, 40, maybe 50 percent of all cancer cases are associated with modifiable, changeable lifestyle and diet factors," he said.
Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable cancer and cancer deaths, and smoking rates are no longer dropping at strong rates. Instead, they have leveled off.
But, tobacco use is far from the only cause. Ten percent of all cancers are linked to obesity, a growing problem in this country.
"And you can develop cirrhosis or scarring of your liver and liver cancer just by being very overweight and obese," Wascher warned. "That is a trend that is on the rise. Also, obesity linked to pancreatic cancer, linked to esophageal cancer, both very bad cancers in terms of how lethal they are and resistant to treatment."
In his book on preventing cancer, Wascher said physical inactivity, a diet high in animal products, and alcohol could all push death rates higher.
"Alcohol is an underappreciated contributor linked to cancer of the breast; linked to esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer," Wascher said.
Bottom line, he said if you really want to survive cancer, take the battle into your own hands.
"An ounce of cancer prevention is worth a ton of cure," Wascher said.
And, again, we are talking about death cancer rates. Actual cases of cancer and actual number of deaths are expected to increase as the population grows, and grows older. Still, with simple lifestyle changes, experts say you could cut your chances of getting cancer or increase your chances of surviving it by up to 50 percent.