A new study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, provides a county-by-county analysis of cancer in the United States.
The study says in 2014, 166.2 out of every 100,000 people in San Diego County died of cancer.
In the synopsis sent to the media, San Diego County’s rate was said to be “lower than the U.S. national mortality rate.”
According to the study, which looked at 29 different types of cancer, San Diego County’s death rate for many cancers declined by 26.6 percent between 1980 and 2014.
The analysis found that U.S. cancer death rates have steadily climbed in parts of the country struggling with obesity, heavy smoking and other ills. That’s a stark contrast with the national trend where better cancer screening and treatment have lowered cancer deaths.
What is San Diego doing right?
While the study did not specifically answer “why,” a couple of theories exist.
Smoking and obesity rates here are lower here compared to other parts of the country. Also, Californians tend to be active people, thanks to access to outdoor recreation.
Dr. Ray Lin, Medical Director of the Scripps Radiation Therapy Center in La Jolla offers another explanation: “Cancer care is getting better because of better technology. Deaths are going down because of better treatment. And there's been better screening."
Dr. Lin’s own family has been touched by cancer. His father was recently treated for prostate cancer. Dr. Lin says the treatment options for prostate cancer include surgery and radiation therapy, both of which have improved.
“Radiation doses today are much higher than they were 25 years ago, because we can deliver radiation therapy more precisely. If you can deliver radiation therapy more precisely, you can give more targeted treatment to the prostate,” he explained.
He says radiation therapy for prostate cancer can sometimes be done in a week, “because we’re so targeted… we can give higher doses in a quicker time.”
While cancer care has improved, Dr. Lin urges people to think prevention. Exercise, drink alcohol in moderation and eat fruits and vegetables.
"Most importantly, I would tell people not to smoke," he said.