When the American Cancer Society reported that the United States had experienced the sharpest one-year drop in the cancer death rate ever recorded, it quickly caught the attention of President Donald Trump.
"U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History!" the president said on Twitter on Thursday, one day after the organization reported the finding. "A lot of good news coming out of this Administration."
The rush to claim credit for the decline drew a gentle rebuttal from the cancer society, which said, in effect, that the president should not be patting himself on the back just yet.
The society's latest annual report on cancer statistics, released Wednesday, noted that the death rate had dropped steadily over 26 years, from 1991 to 2017. The largest single-year decline ever reported, when the rate fell 2.2%, occurred from 2016 to 2017. (Trump took office in January 2017.)
"The mortality trends reflected in our current report, including the largest drop in overall cancer mortality ever recorded from 2016 to 2017, reflect prevention, early detection and treatment advances that occurred in prior years," Gary Reedy, the American Cancer Society's chief executive, said in a statement.
Experts attributed the decline in mortality to reduced smoking rates and to advances in lung cancer treatment. New therapies for melanoma of the skin have also helped extend life for many people with metastatic disease, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Reedy said that, since taking office, the president had signed multiple spending bills that increased funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. But, he said, "the impact of those increases are not reflected in the data contained in this report."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump's critics pointed out that he had also proposed deep cuts in cancer research funding. In his first budget in 2017, he called for a reduction of $5.8 billion, or 18%, from the NIH, which fund thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases. Congress rejected the cuts, and members of both parties joined forces to increase spending on biomedical research.
"Cancer rates dropped before you took office," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said on Twitter on Thursday in response to the president's claim. "Hopefully they keep dropping because Congress rejected your cruel research budgets, which sought billions in CUTS to @NIH and the National Cancer Institute. This is good news despite you - not because of you."
Trump has a history of taking credit for good news on his watch, bragging of his role in falling gas prices, the "safest year on record" in aviation, the Ethiopian prime minister's Nobel Peace Prize and what he perceived as the return to social acceptability of the greeting "merry Christmas."
In claiming credit for falling cancer death rates, the president was seeing his influence in a trend that the American Cancer Society said was driven by long-term drops in mortality for four major cancers - lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.
The death rate for female breast cancer, for example, fell 40% from 1989 to 2017, while the death rate for prostate cancer dropped 52% from 1993 to 2017.
Although those trends largely preceded Trump's arrival in office, Reedy urged the president to continue to support the declines by increasing access to health care, ramping up funding for cancer research and enacting policies to lower smoking rates.
"The administration has an opportunity to significantly impact future declines in both cancer incidence and mortality," he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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