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

We hope that the decline in cancer incidence is due to better health and nutrition, higher rates of screening, and better treatment among other factors. But, when you consider that this reflects the numbers of cancers that are actually diagnosed, it may be problematic since it is possible that fewer cancers are being diagnosed because people aren't getting screened or can't afford to go to the doctor.

Deaths from cancer, on the other hand, tend to a more reliable measure of the impact of our efforts. In a sense, they represent the sum of our efforts when it comes to lifestyle, prevention and early detection and appropriate treatment. There is no question that the rate of death from cancer has been declining for many years, which means we are clearly doing something right.

The report also provides considerable detail on our efforts to curb cigarette smoking and its inevitable impact on cancer deaths.

In those states where they take the prevention of deaths from lung cancer seriously, there are fewer smokers and fewer lung cancer deaths. And, in those states where they snub their noses at the issue, there are more smokers and more deaths.

Consider Utah, Kentucky and California.

Lung cancer incidence for men in Utah is 39.6 newly-diagnosed lung cancers per 100,000 men per year. In Kentucky, the number is 136.2, or more than three times greater. For women, the incidence numbers are 22.4 in Utah and 76.2 in Kentucky, respectively. Lung cancer death rates for men are 33.7 per 100,000 men per year in Utah, and 111.5 in Kentucky. For women, the corresponding numbers are 16.9 in Utah and 111.5 in Kentucky.

California is cited in the report for having the greatest changes in lung cancer death rates over time. In California, the death rates for lung cancer in men are now approaching the death rate in Utah.

Utah has a culture that does not encourage smoking. But how did California accomplish its remarkable results? From 1996 through 2005, the decline in lung cancer deaths in men was 2.8 percent each year. This was more than twice the decline seen in many states in the Midwest and South, according to the report.

California accomplished this goal by being the first state in the U.S. to implement a comprehensive statewide tobacco control program, as noted by the report's authors. As a result, they have made the greatest progress in reducing tobacco use. Clean indoor air laws, high tobacco taxes, and advertising and education worked to get the job done. The citizens of California are being rewarded with better health and fewer lung cancer and tobacco-related deaths because California cared enough to do something bold.

States that don't embrace these proposals see their citizens needlessly die prematurely every day. That -- to me and many others -- is simply not acceptable.

What does the future hold?

We have the power within ourselves to reduce the burden and suffering from cancer right now. We can pay more attention to what we can do to keep ourselves healthy. It isn't a guarantee, but it does improve the odds. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking and getting screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers among others are all part of a healthy lifestyle.

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