Total U.S. Cancer Rates Down for the First Time

Since 1998, the American Cancer Society, along with the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries have provided an Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. This year's report has just been released in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For the first time in the history of these reports, the researchers have found that both the incidence rates and deaths from cancer in both men and women are declining.

But before you become too excited, you need to remember that we still have a long way to go in our efforts to reduce the burden and suffering from the diseases we commonly call cancer.

First, some good news:

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From 1999 through 2005, the rate of cancers diagnosed in the United States has declined 0.8 percent each year for men and women combined. From 2002 to 2005, the rate of death from cancer has also declined 1.8 percent a year. In 2005; 106,000 deaths from cancer were averted as a result of our progress.

For men, lung cancer incidence and deaths have been declining since the early 1990s at a rate of 1.8 percent per year for incidence and 1.9 percent each year for deaths. That's because men decreased their cigarette consumption years ago. Over that time, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved.

Now, some not so good news:

For women, the incidence rates for lung cancer have been increasing year over year since 1975, and they continue to grow even now. And although death rates from lung cancer in women may not be climbing any longer, they aren't declining either. This is a direct result of the "You've come a long way, baby" advertising theme that was prominent in the 1970s that helped hook women born between 1950 and 1960 on cigarettes.

Much of the improvement in incidence and deaths in men is due -- as noted -- to the decline in cigarette consumption, as well as a decline in colorectal cancer and prostate cancer incidence and deaths.

For women, the decrease in incidence and deaths is due primarily to the changes in rates for breast cancer and colorectal cancer, in part because of a decrease in the use of hormonal replacement therapy and more women getting screened for colorectal cancer.

When you look at the trends for individual cancers, you find some interesting information.

For example, among men, the incidence rate for prostate cancer dropped 4.4 percent per year from 2001 to 2005. This may be due to a "leveling off" for PSA testing, meaning that fewer prostate cancers are being diagnosed in the first place. Incidence rates for some other cancers in men have been increasing, including a 7.7 percent increase year-over-year for melanoma and 2.4 percent per year increase for liver cancer in men.

For women, incidence rates for breast cancer went down 2.4 percent a year from 1999-2005, and colorectal cancer is declining 2.2 percent per year. Melanoma rose 2.3 percent per year, and thyroid cancer continued its rapid increase at 6.9 percent per year from 1997-2005.

When examining death rates in men for common cancers, we find that colorectal cancer is decreased 4.3 percent per year from 2002-2005, and stomach cancer deaths declined 3.7 percent per year.

For women, colorectal cancer deaths declined by an annual rate of 4.3 percent per year from 2002-2005, and cervical cancer continued to fall at a rate of 3.4 percent per year from 1995-2005.

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