U.S. Cancer Death Rates Continue to Fall

  • The three leading cancer killers in men are lung, prostate and colorectal cancer. In women, they are lung (accounting for 26 percent of all cancer deaths), breast and colorectal cancer.
  • Men have a 44 percent chance of developing cancer during their lifetime and women a 37 percent chance, although women are more likely to have the disease earlier (before age 60).
  • Lung cancer shows the greatest regional variation in cancer incidence, ranging from a low of 39.6 cases per 100,000 in men and 22.4 per 100,000 in women in Utah to 136.2 in men and 76.2 in women in Kentucky. These statistics correlate directly to smoking rates in the two states, with Utah having the lowest prevalence in adult smoking in the country, and Kentucky the highest.
  • Blacks still assume a disproportionate share of the cancer burden, with black men being 18 percent more likely to develop cancer and 36 percent more likely to die. Black women have a 6 percent lower incidence rate but this is more than made up for with a death rate, which is 17 percent higher than that seen in white women.
  • The five-year survival rate for children with cancer is now 80 percent, up from only 58 percent for those diagnosed in the mid-1970s. But cancer is still the second leading cause of death in youngsters aged 1 to 14 (after accidents), with leukemia being the most common cancer diagnosed.
  • And in a special section, the report finds that cancer survivors are about 14 percent more likely to develop a new cancer than individuals who have never had a cancer diagnosis; almost 900,000 cancer survivors have been diagnosed with more than one cancer. Patients diagnosed with tobacco-related cancers, such as cancers of the oral cavity, lung, esophagus, kidney, and urinary bladder, have the highest risk for a second cancer because smoking is a risk factor for at least 15 types of cancer. Breast cancer survivors comprise almost half of women who develop a second cancer.
  • Unfortunately, cancer remains the leading killer (surpassing heart disease) for persons under 85, and one-quarter of deaths in the United States still come from cancer, the report stated.

    "It's good news that the death rates for the most common cancers are on the decline, but there are still too many Americans dying of cancer every year," said Dr. Alan Astrow, director of medical oncology and hematology at Maimonides Cancer Center in New York City. "It's troubling that African-Americans continue to experience higher rates of mortality from cancer than whites. It's also troubling that Americans with less education have higher death rates. There are continued high rates of deaths from lung cancer. It's hard to feel good about 160,000 Americans dying of lung cancer every year. That's a disturbing statistics which we, as a nation, need to address."

    The report appears online and in the July/August print issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

    More information

    View the full report at the American Cancer Society.

    SOURCES: Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, Ph.D., strategic director, cancer surveillance, American Cancer Society; Louis M. Weiner, M.D., director, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Alan Astrow, M.D., director, medical oncology and hematology, Maimonides Cancer Center, New York City; July/August 2009 CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians

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