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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Deaths in Men Decline for First Time

WebMD Health News

March 23, 2000 (Atlanta) -- After more than 70 years of increases, the number of overall deaths in men from cancer has declined for the first time, according to the annual cancer statistic update by the American Cancer Society (ACS). But not all the numbers are good, especially for women and African-Americans.

The age-adjusted rate of cancer has been going down since it peaked in 1991, but the actual number of deaths had never decreased. According to the ACS info, however, 788 fewer men died from cancer in 1997, the most recent year for which data are available, compared to 1996.

In an editorial published regarding the statistics, ACS CEO John Seffrin, PhD, writes, "Today, it is not a question of whether we will control cancer, but rather when and how quickly."

In light of the fact that the population is burgeoning with aging people, the dip is impressive, according to ACS spokesperson Joann Schellenbach. Recent downturns in each of the top three causes of cancer death among men -- lung, prostate, and colon and rectum cancers -- account for the change.

Even though some of the numbers of people dying from cancer are going down, and the rates are dropping, "When you look at the estimates for numbers of cases, that seems to be going up," Schellenbach tells WebMD. "People say that doesn't make any sense. Well, the way we explain that is the demographics of the United States -- population shifts to older and older people."

Because of this change in demographics, one in two men and one in three women will get invasive cancer in their lifetime, says Schellenbach. "Close to 60% of people who get cancer show good survival rates at five years, but that means 40% of the people die. So if the number of people dying is dropping while the number of people getting it is going up, that's pretty impressive," she tells WebMD.

"It's definitely overall good news," she says. As always, though, there is a "but." "But, of course, if you start to separate that out into racial groups, it's obviously not the same story for everyone," Schellenbach says. Blacks, on the whole, have the highest cancer incidence rates, and they are about 60% more likely to develop a cancer than are Hispanics or Asian/Pacific Islanders. Overall, African-Americans are 33% more likely to die of cancer than are whites.

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