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Nearly 900,000 Fewer Cancer Deaths Since 1990: Report

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) -- There has been a steady drop in cancer deaths in the United States in the past two decades, two American Cancer Society reports find.

This translates into a dramatic decline between 1990 and 2007 -- nearly 900,000 fewer people felled by the disease, the society explained.

"It's getting better for the majority of cancers," said Dr. Iuliana Shapira, director of cancer genetics at Monter Cancer Center at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, NY.

Early detection and better treatments are having an impact on cancer death rates, said Shapira, who was not involved in the report. "More people are living with cancer... We are doing better than we did," she said.

Ahmedin Jemal, strategic director of cancer surveillance at the American Cancer Society, added that a decline in the rate of smoking among Americans is also responsible for the drop in deaths from cancer.

Since 1990, he pointed out, cancer deaths have plummeted by about 22 percent in men and 14 percent in women.

Most recently, the rate of cancer incidence in men has hit a plateau after shrinking 1.9 percent each year from 2001 to 2005. For in women, cancer rates have been dropping steadily, 0.6 percent each year since 1998.

Since 1990, deaths from cancer have declined in almost all racial/ethnic groups and since 1998 in both men and women. The only exception is among American Indian/Alaska Native women, where the rate hasn't changed, according to the reports.

Among black and Hispanic men, decreases in cancer deaths during this period were the largest during this time, dropping 2.6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

According to the latest data, lung cancer death rates in women have dropped significantly, after increasing continuously since the 1930s.

But even with these striking downturns, not all segments of the population are seeing equal benefits, partly because of ongoing disparities in cancer care, Jemal said.

Those with the least education, which is a marker for socioeconomic status, are more than twice as likely to die from cancer than the most educated. If these disparities did not exist, more than 60,000 people aged 20 to 64 would not have died from cancer in 2007 alone, the researchers said.

In 2007, cancer deaths among the least educated were 2.6 times higher than those among the most educated, according to the report. The disparity was largest for lung cancer, where the deaths were five times higher among the least educated than among the most educated.

These differences reflect the differences in smoking rates -- 31 percent among men with 12 or fewer years of education smoke, compared with 12 percent of college graduates and 5 percent of men with graduate degrees, the American Cancer Society noted.

These data are included in two new reports from the Society: Cancer Statistics 2011 and Cancer Facts & Figures 2011.

Other highlights of the reports:

  • Cancer kills Americans at the rate of about 1,500 people a day.
  • Lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer among both men and women.
  • The probability of being diagnosed with an invasive cancer during your life is 44 percent for men and 38 percent for women.
  • For men, prostate, lung and bronchus (respiratory system tissue), and colon cancer account for about 52 percent of all newly diagnosed cancers. Prostate cancer accounts for 29 percent of cases in men.
  • The three most commonly types of cancer in women in 2011 are breast, lung and bronchus, and colon, which, when combined, account for about 53 percent of cancer cases in women. Breast cancer alone accounts for 30 percent of the cases.
  • Lung and bronchus, breast, and colon combined account for almost 50 percent of cancer deaths among men and women.
  • Declines in colon cancer deaths reflect increased screening for the disease.
  • For men, the reduction in deaths from lung, prostate and colon cancer make up about 80 percent of the total decrease in the cancer deaths.
  • For women, a decline in deaths from breast and colon cancers accounts for about 60 percent of the decrease.

This year, the American Cancer Society expects 1,596,670 new cancer cases and 571,950 deaths from the disease in the United States.

More information

For more information on cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., strategic director, cancer surveillance, American Cancer Society; Iuliana Shapira, M.D., director, Cancer Genetics, Monter Cancer Center, North Shore-LIJ Health System, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; American Cancer Society, reports, Cancer Statistics 2011, Cancer Facts & Figures 2011

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