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Cancer Health Center

Cancer Death Rate Continues to Fall

Researchers Say More Cancers Are Being Detected Early or Prevented Through Screening
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 7, 2009 -- New cancer cases and the cancer death rate continue to fall in the U.S., driven largely by declines in lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers in men and breast and colorectal cancers in women.

For all types of cancer, new cases declined by nearly 1% a year between 1999 and 2006. During much of the 1990s cancer incidence rates were stable, after increasing steadily from the mid-1970s.

The cancer death rate -- the best predictor of progress against the disease -- has been falling for more than a decade and a half.  Deaths from cancer declined by about 1% annually between 1993 and 2001 and 1.6% annually from 2002 to 2006.

Fewer Americans are smoking and more cancers are being detected early or prevented entirely through screening.

These two trends have played a big part in reducing cancer deaths in the U. S., experts say.

"We continue to make progress in the battle against cancer, and this progress is reflected in the continued decline in deaths," Elizabeth Ward, PhD, of the American Cancer Society tells WebMD.

Breast, Colon, and Prostate Cancer Deaths Fall

The annual report examining cancer incidence and cancer death trends in the U.S. is a joint effort by the CDC, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

Among the major findings:

  • The overall cancer incidence continues to be higher for men than for women, but men experienced the greatest declines in new cases and deaths.
  • New cases declined for the three leading cancers in men -- prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer -- as well as for brain cancer, stomach cancer, and cancer of the oral cavity. No change was seen in the rate of pancreatic cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and increases were reported for cancers of the brain, esophagus, kidney, and liver and for melanoma and myeloma.
  • Among women, declines were reported for two of the three most widely diagnosed cancers: breast and colorectal. New cases of lung cancer rose slightly.
  • For men and women, death rates declined for colorectal, stomach, kidney, and brain cancers, as well as for leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma. Lung cancer death rates dropped by 2% annually among men and remained unchanged for women.
  • Deaths from prostate cancer fell by about 4% annually between 2001 and 2006 and deaths from breast cancer fell by almost 2% a year during the same period.

"The continued decline in death rates from all cancers combined for men and women reflects the impact of increased screening, reduction of risk factors, and improved treatment," the report notes.

While the death rate from cancer continues to fall, the actual number of Americans who die from the disease is projected to rise in coming years as the population increases and baby boomers reach the high-risk age for cancer.

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