Cancer report finds largest single-year drop in mortality, but doesn’t touch on pediatric cancer problems

Local News

CHITTENANGO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — A report from the American Cancer Society finds death rates are dropping. The 2020 report marked a 2.2 percent drop in cancer mortality from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop on record.

Dr. Leslie Kohman at the Upstate Cancer Center says the trend is partly driven by fewer lung cancer deaths, due to prevention and tobacco control, but the real driver is improved treatment with immunotherapy.

Even though she calls the report “exciting” Dr. Kohman says it’s important to note, the other three “big cancers” — breast, colorectal, and prostate — have not gone down nearly as much.

“Certain cancers have actually gone up in incidence. These include liver cancer, which has had a steady rise over a number of years. This is primarily due to people with Hepatitis-C and Hepatitis-B and cancer of the pancreas is also rising,” said Dr. Kohman.

Dr. Kohman does not believe effective screening is being adopted efficiently. “The other cancer, which is not part of the big four, where we have a major problem is cervical cancer. Ten young women are dying prematurely of cervical cancer every week in this country because they did not have pap smears and treatment,” she said.

“The other persistent problem we have is with disparities. African American populations still have higher incidences and higher death rates of all the four major cancers than the majority population, so this is a major problem that we haven’t fixed yet,” Dr. Kohman said.

Another problem Dr. Kohman says our country still faces is the longterm effects of treatment for cases of pediatric cancer. “The cure for longterm pediatric cancers is much better than it was,” she said. “The problem we have now is childhood cancer survivors who have longterm negative side effects from their treatment.”

One of those children is young Izzy Vecchio. We first introduced you to her when she was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2019, at nine years old.

“Nobody should have to watch their child suffer,” said her mom, Elise Vecchio. It’s been their reality for a year, and they have 350 beads to prove it. Izzy has been adding a single bead to a string for each round of chemo, transfusion, and hospital stay. It’s part of the program Beads of Courage.

“Her tenth birthday really just, I was emotional the whole day. No kid should have to spend their first double-digit birthday, I mean she was sick all day long,” said Elise.

Izzy is now in remission, but like many kids with cancer, it’s not behind her yet.

“We always have that fear that it’s gonna come back,” said Elise.

As they deal with that fear, Dr. Kohman says pediatric cancer survivors also deal with recurring side effects from their chemo and radiation. “Their treatment has interfered with their immune system,” said Dr. Kohman.

“I’m paranoid every time she throws up and she still throws up constantly,” said Elise.

Izzy has a long road ahead, but her parents are grateful. “I can’t imagine all the parents whose children don’t survive,” said Elise.

Through all the pain, Elise has stayed hopeful, staying positive we’ll one day know the cause and have a cure. “Finding the cause is really important, to prevent it in the first place,” she said.

Izzy Vecchio with her Beads of Courage

She hopes fewer children and their families will see their childhood mapped out on a string of beads.

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For more local news follow Nicole Sommavilla on Twitter/NeSommavilla.

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