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Cancer Deaths Continue to Drop

Steepest Decline Seen in Colorectal Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 15, 2007 - Cancer deaths continue to decline in the United States, and at a faster rate than has been seen in the past, a new report from the nation’s leading cancer groups confirms.

Deaths from all cancers dropped by an average of 2.1% annually from 2002 through 2004 -- nearly twice the annual decrease reported from 1993 to 2002.

Significant declines were seen in deaths from lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers in men and colorectal and breast cancers in women.

The report was issued by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the CDC, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

“Cancer deaths have been decreasing since the mid '90s, but to see the rate of decline accelerate and almost double was both surprising and very heartening,” David Espey, MD, of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, tells WebMD.

Colorectal Cancer Deaths

Deaths dropped for the majority of the top 15 cancers in men and women, but the steepest declines were seen in colorectal cancer mortality.

Increased screening and better treatments led to an almost 5% annual reduction in colorectal cancer mortality among men and 4.5% annual reduction in death rate among women between 2002 and 2004, compared with annual declines of about 2% over the previous two decades.

The incidence of colorectal cancer among men and women has also fallen over the last decade, by slightly more than 2% per year.

Espey says the sharp drop in incidence and deaths highlights the success of screening as well as an even bigger opportunity for future declines.

Only about half of people in the U.S. who should get screened for colorectal cancer do so.

“The message is that something is working, and screening is probably a big part of it,” he says. “But this sends a very clear message that we could do better by screening more people.”

Lung Cancer Deaths

Lung cancer remains the leading cancer killer of both men and women, and upwards of 90% of these deaths can be attributed to smoking, according to the ACS.

Although more men than women still die of lung cancer, lung cancer death rates have been dropping steadily among men while they have been increasing among women.

This upward trend has slowed dramatically over the past few years, however, and now shows signs of stabilizing.

“It looks as if we may have reached a plateau,” ACS Director of Surveillance Research Elizabeth Ward, PhD, tells WebMD. “We are hopeful that we will see declines in lung cancer deaths among women over the next few years, but we aren’t quite there yet.”

Declines in lung cancer deaths among men are also projected to continue as smoking rates continue to drop.

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