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Many Cancers’ Rates Continue to Decline

March 31, 2011 | Dagny Stuart

Rates of death from all cancers for patients in the United States continued to decline between 2003 and 2007, the most recent reporting period available, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.  The overall rate of new cancer diagnoses for men and women combined decreased slightly less than 1 percent per year.

The report is co-authored by researchers from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society. It appeared online March 31, 2011, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and in print on May 4, 2011.

The drop in cancer death rates continues a trend that began in the early 1990s. For the first time, lung cancer death rates decreased in women, more than a decade after rates began dropping in men. Despite the drop in lung cancer deaths among women nationwide, lung cancer still kills more people than any other type of cancer.

“Even with this relatively good news, lung cancer remains a significant public health issue for the United States and the rest of the world,” said Joseph B. (Bill) Putnam, M.D., chair of Thoracic Surgery, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

“Our patients are grateful for the progress that has been made in preventing and treating lung cancer.  Still, we have the highest percentage of men and women who smoke here in Tennessee and Kentucky, exposing their families and children to second-hand smoke.  These patients must be helped to stop smoking to decrease their risk of dying of lung cancer and other diseases.  Until then, lung cancer screening may be a new strategy to evaluate current and former smokers at high risk for lung cancer.”

Overall cancer incidence rates in men were essentially unchanged with the exception of a very small uptick in prostate cancer rates. In men, incidence rates have declined for cancers of the lung, colon and rectum, oral cavity and pharynx, stomach, and brain (malignant only), while rates have risen for kidney, pancreas and liver cancers, as well as melanoma of the skin.

In women, incidence rates decreased for breast, lung, colorectal, uterine, cervical, bladder, and oral cavity cancers, but increased for kidney, pancreas, and thyroid cancers, as well as for leukemia and melanoma of the skin. Breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women regardless of race or ethnicity.

Of special note, childhood cancer incidence rates (rates of new diagnoses) continued to increase while death rates in this age group decreased.

Among racial/ethnic groups, cancer death rates were highest among black men and black women, but this group also showed the largest decline for the period between 1998 and 2007 compared with other racial groups. For new cancers, black men had the highest incidence rates in the 2003 to 2007 period studied. Among women, white women had the highest overall incidence rates.

The differences and fluctuations in death rates by racial/ethnic group, sex, and cancer site may reflect differences in risk behaviors, socioeconomic status, and access to and use of screening and treatment.