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Cancer Care Makes More Progress

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WebMD Health News

Jan. 18, 2002 -- Are you doing your part in the fight against cancer? The disease accounts for about one in four deaths in the U.S., but we continue to see improvement year by year, according to a new study published in the January/February issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Cancer is the No. 2 killer in the U.S., behind heart disease. And most of those deaths are due to four cancers: lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate.

Over half a million people are expected to die this year from cancer, but in the last decade, both the number of cancers and subsequent deaths from the disease continued to decline.

"This progressive reduction in cancer [frequency] and mortality, now almost a decade in duration, is a triumph by any standard and a product of cancer prevention, early diagnosis, screening, and improved cancer treatment programs widely utilized throughout the country," writes Robert C. Young, MD, president of the American Cancer Society, in an editorial accompanying the study. He also is the president of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

African-Americans have proportionally more cancers than other racial groups in the U.S. And they are less likely to survive when diagnosed with cancer. However, there is good news to report here as well. African-American men had the biggest decline in both cancer frequency and deaths among all ethnic groups.

Among women, the three most-common cancers in 2002 are expected to be breast, lung, and colorectal. These three cancers should account for about 55% of all cancers in women. Lung cancer still is expected to be the biggest cancer killer among women -- as it has been since 1987. Lung cancer is estimated to account for 25% of deaths, compared to 15% of deaths for breast cancer.

For men, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers will account for 55% of all new cancers. And though prostate cancer is the No. 1 cancer in men, it is expected to account for only 11% of deaths. More than 80% of prostate cancers are expected to be diagnosed early, with nearly 100% of men surviving at least five years -- considered a cure among cancer experts.

Certainly, there still is cause for concern, Young says. "Cancer continues to take a terrible toll on the American people ... Estimates indicate that sometime within the next 10 to 15 years, cancer will overtake [heart disease] and become the most-common cause of death in the U.S."

He also points out that with the aging population in the U.S., the actual number of deaths from cancer is likely to continue to increase.

But overall, we are winning the war on cancer, Young writes. For any given age, he predicts we will continue to see a fall in deaths from cancer.

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