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Cancer Health Center

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U.S. Cancer Deaths on the Decline

Number of Americans Being Diagnosed Remains the Same
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 6, 2006 -- Fewer Americans are dying of cancer, even though the number of people being diagnosed with the disease remains the same, according to the latest figures from the nation's top cancer groups.

An overall decline in cancer deaths that began in the early 1990s continues, with death rates among men dropping at twice the rate as those among women -- a 1.6% annual decline for men from the early 1990s to 2003, compared with a 0.8% fall for women.

A reduction in cigarette smoking among adults continues to be one of the biggest driving forces in the drop in cancer deaths, along with earlier cancer detection through screening, and treatment advances.

Smoking rates among American men have declined faster than among women. As a result, lung cancer incidence has been dropping among men and increasing among women from 1975 to 2003.

"Smoking is a big risk factor for many cancers, not just lung cancer," says Holly Howe, PhD, executive director of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and one of the researchers. "That is why it is so important that we continue smoking cessation efforts aimed at women and teen girls."

Breast Cancers May Have Stabilized

The new cancer death and incidence report was a joint effort of the registries association, the CDC, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute. The figures have been updated annually since 1998.

Among the major findings from 1995 to 2003:

  • Men's death rates for 11 of the 15 most common cancers -- including lung, prostate, colon and rectum, pancreatic, and leukemia -- continue to decline. Deaths from esophageal and liver cancer increased, but seem to have stabilized for kidney cancer and melanoma.

  • Among women, death rates dropped for 10 of the 15 most common cancers, including cancers of the colon and rectum, kidney, cervix, and bladder. Deaths from leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and myeloma also declined. Death rates were stable for pancreatic, ovarian, and uterine cancer.

  • Breast cancer rates stabilized between 2001 and 2003, appearing to end a dramatic increase in the number of women being diagnosed with the disease that began 2 decades earlier.

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