Understanding the Drop in Cancer Cases

"Scarily, fewer people could be going to the doctor due to increased uninsurance rates," he said, adding that doctors might also be less vigilant about checking for certain cancers. He noted, however, that this last scenario is unlikely.

Will the Trend Continue?

The uncertainty involved with interpreting the results could make it difficult for physicians to predict whether these trends will continue in the years to come -- or whether this year's report is a one-off bit of good news.

Still, most doctors remained optimistic.

"I think these downturns are sustainable for several reasons," Wake Forest's Spangler said. "I think people are more aware about cancer screening in general, such as mammograms for women and colonoscopy exams for everyone over the age of 50.

As more and more communities adopt smoke-free policies, there will be continued decreases in cancer rates from secondhand smoke exposure."

And Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society noted that even if incidence rates do not continue their decline, there is still good news to be found.

"I believe the mortality rates will continue to decline over time," he said. "That is the more sustainable trend."

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