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Cancer Death Rates Still Declining

But report notes rate of decrease slowed from 2004 to 2005, with 5,424 more deaths

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Good news continues to come forth from the cancer front: U.S. death rates from the disease have declined by 18.4 percent among men and by 10.5 percent among women since mortality rates first started going down in the early 1990s.

In 2008, an estimated 1,437,180 new cancers will be diagnosed, and 565,650 people will die of the disease, according to a report released Wednesday from the American Cancer Society (ACS). Death rates were at their highest for men in 1990, and for women in 1991.

Although the rate of cancer deaths decreased from 2004 to 2005, there was an increase in number of actual deaths (5,424) in 2005 compared to 2004, the report showed.

"We do not know why the declines in death rate from 2004 to 2005 slowed, compared to the previous two years," said Ahmedin Jemal, strategic director for cancer surveillance at the ACS. "But we can say that this occurred for almost all of the major cancer sites for men and women, which include colon and rectum in both men and women, breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men."

"Death rates from cancer continue to decrease because of prevention, early detection and treatment," Jemal added. "These have been decreasing from the early '90s and, really, because of this decrease, over half a million deaths from cancer have been avoided."

Jemal is first author of Cancer Statistics 2008, which is published in the March/April issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The report has been an annual fixture since 1952.

"This is both good news and bad news," said Dr. Louis Weiner, director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "The good news is that cancer rates continue to decline, and that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans have been saved over past 15 or 16 years as a result of this improvement in cancer death rates."

"The bad news is that more than a half a million Americans can be anticipated to die of cancer this year," Weiner continued. "That's equivalent to nearly the entire population of Washington, D.C., and losing more than the entire population of New Orleans in 2003. Viewed from that perspective, we have a long way to go."

According to Jemal, "smoking is a big part [of the decline.] Smoking rates have been decreasing for the last 30 to 40 years, when the Surgeon General came out with his report."

Screening for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer have also contributed to the decrease, he added.

Today, about one-quarter of deaths in the United States today are due to cancer, killing more people under 85 than heart disease.

Some specifics from this year's report:

  • In men, cancers of the prostate, lung, colon and rectum represented about half of all newly diagnosed cancers. Prostate cancer alone accounted for one-quarter of the total cancer cases in men.
  • In women, the three most commonly diagnosed cancers in 2008 will be breast, lung and colorectal. These account for about half of all cancer cases in women. Breast cancer alone accounts for 26 percent of new cancer cases among women (although the incidence decreased by 3.5 percent per year from 2001 to 2004, part of which may be due to declines in the use of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy). About one-quarter of all deaths from cancer in women in 2008 will be from lung cancer.
  • In men aged 40 and younger, leukemia is the most common cause of cancer death, while lung cancer is the leading killer in men over the age of 40.
  • Leukemia is also the leading cause of cancer death among females under 20, while breast cancer takes the greatest toll in women aged 20 to 59. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in women over 60.
  • The incidence of cancer is 19 percent higher and the death rate 37 percent higher among black men compared with white men. For black women, the incidence rate is 6 percent lower, but the death rate is 17 percent higher than for white women.
  • The five-year survival rate for children with cancer has improved from 58 percent for those diagnosed between 1975 and 1977 to 80 percent for those diagnosed between 1996 and 2003.

This year's report also includes a special section that discusses the impact of health insurance status on cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes. Earlier this week, researchers from the American Cancer Society reported that people who either have no health insurance or rely on Medicaid are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancers.

More information

Visit the American Cancer Society for more on this report and on different types of cancer.

SOURCES: Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, Ph.D., strategic director, cancer surveillance, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Louis Weiner, M.D., director, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Cancer Statistics 2008

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