Nothing prepares you for a cancer diagnosis. I didn’t even have any symptoms when I got mine.
A sonographer, routinely checking on the health of my carotid arteries with a mobile ultrasound cart, noticed an enlarged thyroid on the periphery of her screen. A few clumps of cells had turned against me and started to multiply.
Years ago, nobody would have been able to discover my problem until the disease had spread. And to diagnose me, they would’ve had to perform an invasive biopsy that itself carries risks. But thanks to that little diagnostic machine, I began on a treatment path that has left me cancer-free for nearly a year now.
I’m lucky to be one of millions of cancer survivors with a positive story to share. Deaths from cancer are on the decline thanks to better detection methods, more early screenings, behavior changes like quitting smoking, and rapidly advancing treatments. The latest data show that since 1991, the cancer death rate has fallen by 29% in the US, and from 2016 to 2017, it dropped by 2.2% — the largest single-year decline ever.
But there are still sobering statistics to temper the good news. In 2020, the American Cancer Society estimates doctors will diagnose 1.8 million people with cancer in the US alone, where it’s still the second leading cause of death after heart disease. More than 600,000 Americans die from cancer every year, and millions must endure grueling treatments.
From more powerful diagnostic imaging to genetic testing to immunotherapy innovations, new and emerging technologies will play a key role in accelerating the fight against cancer and potentially help reduce the mortality rate even further.
“There’s a sense of tremendous advances in treating cancers that would otherwise have killed the patient very quickly,” says Joel Saltz, a pathologist and Stony Brook Medicine’s vice president for clinical informatics. “People are having months or years of symptom-free life.”