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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Now Top Killer of Americans Under 85

2005 Prediction: 1,500 Cancer Deaths Every Day
WebMD Health News

Jan. 19, 2005 -- Cancer has surpassed heart disease to become the leading cause of death in the U.S. in people under 85, according to new statistics released today by the American Cancer Society.

The group predicts that 1,372,910 Americans this year will hear the words "you've got cancer." And, the group says, in 2005 cancer will kill 570,280 Americans -- more than 1,500 a day.

Despite cancer's spot as America's No. 1 cause of death among people under age 85, the overall U.S. cancer death rate actually has been going down. Why? More widespread cancer screening and better cancer treatment, says Elizabeth Ward, PhD, director of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society.

Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of people 85 and over.

"We can say with confidence that both are occurring," Ward tells WebMD. "The declines in the cancer mortality rate are due to earlier detection and to improvements in treatment."

Lung Cancer Still Top Cancer Killer

Lung cancer is still the top cause of cancer death. It's the cause of one-third of cancer deaths in men and of one-fourth of cancer deaths in women. But the U.S. campaign against tobacco use has had an effect. Lung cancer deaths among men are dropping. And after years of increases, lung cancer deaths are leveling off among women.

Breast cancer causes a third of all cancers in women. It's their second leading cause of cancer death. But here, too, death rates are going down -- again largely due to more women getting screening mammograms and to advances in treatment.

Prostate cancer is to men what breast cancer is to women. It's the No. 2 cause of male cancer death. Death rates are going down, although it is not yet clear whether this is due to the PSA screening blood test.

"The kinds of studies that can demonstrate the benefit of PSA screening are being done but are not concluded," Ward says. "So the American Cancer Society recommends that when men reach 50, they should discuss with their doctors the benefits and risks of PSA screening."

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