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Cancer Mortality Rates Decreasing Nationwide, Still Increasing Slightly in East Texas

Publication: KLTV-TV (ABC, Tyler)

The cancer mortality rate in East Texas is higher than the nationwide average, but local doctors says it’s getting better.

According to the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate has declined 29% from 1991-2017. The highest drop was 2.2%, from 2016-2017.

“Over the years we’ve seen tremendous improvements in the survivor rates of patients with cancer,” said Dr. Donald Richards, a medical oncologist with Texas Oncology. “We’re seeing people living much, much longer. We’re seeing responses that were unimaginable 10 years ago.”

Doctors are crediting this to early detection, quality of treatments and people taking better care of themselves.

“I can’t tell anyone what to do, but if you quit smoking, that ain’t a bad idea,” said Max Easterly, a stage four lung cancer survivor. “What they’re doing in this industry and all the techniques and patterns they have, I believe there will come a day when cancer will be treated just like an illness, not you’re going to die from it.”

The number of cancer deaths has actually increased over the past few years. But, the mortality rate — the number of cancer deaths compared to the number of cancer cases — is decreasing.

Smith County was expected to see an increase of 1.97% in cancer deaths from 2018-2019.

Gregg County was expected to see an increase of 1.49%, and Kaufman County was expected to see an increase of 5.49%.

Richards said he knows cancer numbers are high in East Texas but he believes it’s getting better.

“I don’t think that I see anything alarming,” said Richards. “You’ve got to realize, some of the newer treatments that we’re seeing, you’ll see the effect 2-3 years from now. I think clearly our options are greatly improved; I think we’ll continue to see tremendous improvements in survival.”

He says he’s already seeing improvements in his own practice.

“I do believe the number of cancer deaths in East Texas is clearly dropping,” said Richards. “I can tell you, I’m seeing much fewer patients with advanced breast cancer; we’re detecting it much earlier. I can say we’re seeing a lot more colon cancer with early detection, which improves survival — we’re definitely seeing improvement in East Texas.”

Cody Boyd, the division administrator of the UT Health East Texas Cancer Institute and CEO of UT Health North Campus Tyler took a look at the Texas Cancer Registry statistics and gave the following summary:

Smith County v East Texas

The nation is seeing a decline in cancer mortality rates, but that is not as represented in East Texas. Smith County shows mortality declines in the 50-90% range and incidence declines up to 30% (and a few better), but HSR 4’s numbers are about half of what Smith County’s mortality and incidence declines are.

Health Service Regions

  • Overall cancer incidence in HSR 4 is the highest in the state, followed by HSR 5.
  • Overall cancer mortality rates are second highest in the state in HSR 5 and third highest in HSR 4.
  • Latest data shows that HSR 4 and 5 lead the state in lung cancer incidence and mortality.
  • HSR 4 is the third highest in Texas regarding breast cancer mortality and 4th highest in breast cancer incidence.
  • HSR 4 is the third highest in Texas regarding colorectal cancer incidence and mortality. The gap between 1st and 3rd is small and more significant between 3rd and 4th.

Leading cancers in 2019

  • Women – Breast, Lung and Colorectal
  • Men – Prostate, Lung and Colorectal


Cancer cases are increasing, primarily due to the aging population, but the overall incidence rate is declining. We have more people moving to and living in Texas, but the overall incidence rate is slowing.

Cancer deaths are increasing as well, but the overall rate is declining. Just like the incidence rate, this is due to the growing and aging population in Texas. Mortality rates have decreased more significantly in men than women, and we have seen significant declines in prostate, lymphoma, lung and colorectal rates. The overall decline can be attributed to advances in screening techniques and treatments, as well as better education in overall personal wellness, decreasing major contributors such as smoking rates.

Cancer survivors are increasing, which is a great problem! Cancer is being detected earlier and treatments are improving. As the population is growing, we have more people living with cancer, creating more survivors. Breast cancer and prostate cancer are two of the areas where survivor numbers have grown significantly.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in Smith county and most of East Texas, with cancer following shortly behind. The mortality rates for heart disease have decreased with greater vigor over the past 20-30 years, than cancer mortality rates. At the current rate, cancer will pass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US by 2020.


When you look at Smith County alone, we do fairly well regarding health outcomes, though there is still work to be done. Looking at HSR 4 and 5 (East Texas overall), we perform very poorly regarding health outcomes. Our smoking rates are some of the highest in the state, our diets are not typically considered balanced, with a deficit in vitamins and fiber and a surplus in fried foods and sugar. We also face considerable access barriers, as Tyler is the largest city in a region where we serve almost 2 million.

To read the American Cancer Society’s current cancer statistics, click here. Here you can find national data.

To read the Texas Cancer Registry’s current cancer statistics, click here. Here you can find local data.

Click here to watch the full story.

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