U.S. Cancer Death Rates Continue to Fall

WEDNESDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) -- Some 650,000 people are alive today who wouldn't be were it not for advances in cancer prevention, detection and treatment over the past 15 years, new statistics show.

The American Cancer Society's Cancer Statistics 2009 report finds an encouraging 19.2 percent drop in cancer death rates among men from 1990 to 2005, as well as an 11.4 percent drop in women's cancer death rates during the same time period.

Overall, cancer death rates fell 2 percent per year from 2001 to 2005 in men and 1.6 percent per year from 2002 to 2005 in women. By comparison, between 1993 and 2001, overall death rates in men declined 1.5 percent per year and, between 1994 and 2002, 0.8 percent in women.

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"We continue to see a decrease in death rates from cancer in both men and women and this is mainly because of prevention - mostly a reduction in smoking rates; detection which includes screening for colorectal cancer, for breast cancer and for cervical cancer; and also improved treatment," said report author Ahmedin Jemal, strategic director for cancer surveillance at the American Cancer Society.

"To put this in perspective, the number of lives saved is more than the population of Washington, D.C.," said Dr. Louis M. Weiner, director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University. "In my mind, that's a cause for some celebration. However, there are some sobering trends that we have to be aware of. The death rate for cardiovascular disease has dropped much more dramatically over that period than has the death rate from cancer, indicating the difficulty of developing new strategies to reduce the incidence of cancer and also to treat it more effectively. This is a very complex set of diseases. While we have come a long way, we have a lot further to go."

Hopefully, continued reductions in smoking rates, especially among women, should push cancer rates further down in the future, the researchers noted.

Although some 45 million Americans continue to smoke, for a prevalence rate of about 20 percent, "smoking prevalence is going in the right direction," Jemal said. "We're going to see a reduction in lung cancer death rates, although I don't know when it might be. In particular, we will see a reduction in cancer death rates among women that's going to drive [down] the overall cancer death rate."

Better screening could also further fuel the trend. Only 50 percent of Americans over the age of 50 currently get regular screening for colorectal cancer, he said.

Here is a summary of the report's findings:

  • In 2009, an estimated 1,479,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. (766,130 in men and 713,220 in women) and 562,340 people will die of the disease (292,540 men and 269,800 women). This means 1,500 deaths from cancer every day).
  • Between 2001 and 2005, the incidence of cancer in men declined by 1.8 percent per year; from 1998 to 2005 the incidence rate in women dropped 0.6 percent per year. In men, the gains were largely as a result of decreases in the incidence of lung, prostate and colorectal cancer (the three most common cancers). In women, the decline was largely attributable to declines in both breast and colorectal cancer, the two most common tumor types in women.
  • Cancer death rates dropped by 11.4 percent for women between 1991 and 2005, with a 37 percent decline in deaths from breast cancer and a 24 percent decrease in deaths from colorectal cancer.
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