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U.S. Cancer Deaths Drop Again

America's biggest drop in cancer deaths in more than 70 years has cancer experts applauding -- but warning that the fight against cancer isn't over.
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 17, 2007 -- America's biggest drop in cancer deaths in more than 70 years has cancer experts applauding -- but warning the fight against cancer isn't over.

The new report from the American Cancer Society shows that 3,014 fewer Americans died of cancer in 2004 than in 2003.

That makes 2004 the second straight year -- and only the second year since the 1930s -- in which total cancer deaths recorded in the U.S. were down.

Cancer deaths had dropped a smaller amount (a decline of 369 deaths) from 2002 to 2003.

The report appears in the January/February edition of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

"Everyone involved in the fight against cancer should be proud of this remarkable achievement," says American Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer John Seffrin, PhD, in a news release.

"The hard work towards preventing cancer, catching it early, and making treatment more effective is paying dramatic, lifesaving dividends," Seffrin says.

Still a Leading Cause of Death

However, cancer remains America's No. 2 cause of death overall and the No. 1 cause for men and women younger than 85, note the researchers.

They included Michael Thun, MD, MS, vice president of the epidemiology and surveillance research department at the American Cancer Society.

Thun's team analyzed government data on cancer deaths in 2004, the most recent year for which government statistics are available.

The figures show that 553,888 U.S. men and women died of cancer in 2004 -- nearly a quarter of U.S. deaths that year.

Cancer is second only to heart disease in terms of overall deaths, according to the report.

But "cancer still accounts for more deaths than heart disease in persons under age 85 years," write Thun and colleagues.

Leading Cancer Killers

Lung cancer remains America's leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, the report shows.

The five leading causes of cancer deaths for men of all ages in 2004 were:

  1. Lung cancer: 89,575 deaths
  2. Prostate cancer: 29,002 deaths
  3. Colorectal cancer: 26,881 deaths
  4. Pancreatic cancer: 15,776 deaths
  5. Leukemia: 12,051 deaths

The five leading causes of cancer deaths for women that year were:

  1. Lung cancer: 68,431 deaths
  2. Breast cancer: 40,954 deaths
  3. Colorectal cancer: 26,699 deaths
  4. Pancreatic cancer: 15,995 deaths
  5. Ovarian cancer: 14,716 deaths

Between 2003 and 2004, deaths were down for lung cancer in men, colon cancer in both men and women, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

Cigarette smoking peaked among women about 20 years after its peak among men, which may help explain why women's lung cancer deaths were up slightly (by 0.5%) in 2004 while deaths in men were down.

Colorectal cancer showed the biggest decline in deaths between 2003 and 2004, with a drop of more than 2,200.

Prevent, Detect, Treat

Cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment likely explain the drop in total cancer deaths, according to the report.

Early detection often improves chances of surviving cancer.

The American Cancer Society adjusted its U.S. cancer projections for 2007.

It now predicts 1.44 million new cases of invasive cancer in the U.S. this year.

That figure doesn't include a million expected cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, America's most common type of cancer, but one that is not usually fatal.

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