SPRINGDALE, Ark (KNWA/KFTA) — The American Association for Cancer Research recently published a study that shows cancer death rates are declining across the United States. Highlands Oncology confirms that the same can be said for the state of Arkansas.

Eric Shaefer, a medical oncologist for Highlands Oncology, largely attributed the decrease in cancer deaths to increased, improved cancer screenings. The group’s lung cancer screening program is considered a large part of the improvements.

With lung cancer screening, any previous smoker can get screened for free each year. Since launching the program, Shafer said he’s seen more people come in with early stages of cancer, which are easier to treat.

“The problem with lung cancers, when it’s a stage three, is the cure rate is about 25%. Stage four, it’s about a 2% cure rate. We’ve been able to catch many more patients in stage one, stage two, where the cure rate exponentially increases,” said Shaefer.

Edward Beatty is a patient at Highlands Oncology. He has battled cancer for more than 15 years. He’s had basal cell carcinoma, bladder cancer and most recently, lung cancer. The spot on his lung was caught in February of last year and after surgery and treatment, he was told he was cancer free.

“The doctor came in, he says, we got it all. We didn’t find anything else. And I said thank you, you know, just very, very thankful for it,” said Beatty.

Beatty acknowledged that if he hadn’t known about the screening program, he may have been diagnosed too late.

“I had no indication that I had cancer- none at all,” said Beatty.

He said a lot of people don’t consider getting a CT scan done each year. He encourages those who are at higher risk of cancer or who are at an at-risk age, to highly consider annual screenings for cancer.

“Please, please do yourself a favor and do it. It’s just another way to keep yourself healthy,” said Beatty.

Something else that’s decreasing cancer death rates is improved treatment options. According to Shaefer, only about a third of cancer patients at Highlands Oncology want to get treated with chemotherapy alone. It’s usually paired with targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Both of which have improved over the course of the past 10 years.

“I’d say every two or three years, we’ve made significant improvements in the therapies. We can offer people therapies that make a big difference in cure rate, mortality rate, but more importantly, they are able to tolerate it a lot better,” said Shaefer.

Shaefer also said surgeries and tools are improving along with the treatments. He expects, over the next 10 to 15 years, for the mortality rate among cancer patients to decrease even more.

“People that, like I said, years ago, I would have told you they had 15 months to live, they’re still alive. And I give them a hug every three months, because they’re still here,” said Shaefer.

According to Shaefer, around 42% of all cancers are avoidable. Some cancers are due to controllable factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, being overweight, or being inactive. However, the other approximately 52% of cancers are not preventable.

Shaefer said you should pay attention to the age you need to start screening for certain cancers and find out if you have a condition that makes you more at risk.

According to the AACR, there were more than 18 million people with a history of cancer living in the U.S. as of January 2022. There was also a 2.3 percent decrease in cancer deaths each year between 2016 and 2019.

Due to the continued advances in medicine, a 72-year-old grandpa is able to spend more time with his family.

“They’re very appreciative that I’m still here. I’m glad that I’m still here. I’ve got a lot of life left to live,” said Beatty.