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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.
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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

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