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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Deaths in U.S. Still Dropping

But Death Rates for Less Educated People Remain High
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 17, 2011 -- The death rate from cancer is still dropping in the United States, continuing a trend that began almost two decades ago, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Close to 900,000 Americans who would have been expected to die of cancer have not, with death rates down 22% for men and almost 14% for women from 1990 and 2007, ACS officials say.

60,000 Deaths Could Have Been Prevented

Each year, the ACS estimates new cancer cases and deaths from the disease in the current year and reports the latest data on cancer incidence and mortality.

Declines in smoking and better cancer screening and treatments have all contributed to the improvement in mortality, but the report highlights the fact that cancer deaths among the least educated Americans remain more than double that of those who are more educated and affluent.

Education level was used as a marker for socioeconomic status. The researchers concluded that:

  • Closing the education-socioeconomic gap would have prevented about 60,000 premature cancer deaths in 2007 alone in people ages 25-64.
  • In 2007, the last year for which mortality figures are available, the cancer death rate among the least educated Americans was 2.6 times higher than the death rate among the most educated.
  • The death rate from lung cancer was five times higher among the least educated Americans than the most educated.

ACS Vice President of Surveillance Research Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, tells WebMD that higher smoking and obesity rates among lower income Americans combined with less access to medical services largely explains the disparity.

One in five American adults (20%) now smokes, but the rate is half that for college graduates and more than twice as high for people without high school diplomas.

And while 70% of insured women get regular mammograms, only about 35% of uninsured women get them, Jemal says.

“We found that almost 37% of cancer deaths could have been avoided in 2007 alone if everyone experienced the same death rate as Americans with higher education status,” he says.

572,000 Cancer Deaths Expected in 2011

Close to 1.6 million new cancers will be diagnosed in 2011, and close to 572,000 Americans will die of the disease, the ACS estimates.

Among the other report highlights:

  • Overall cancer incidence rates were stable in men after declining by almost 2% a year between 2001 and 2005.
  • Among women, cancer incidence has been declining by about 0.6% a year since 1998.
  • Breast, lung, and colorectal cancer accounted for about half of all malignancies in women, while about half of malignancies in men were prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. Breast and prostate cancers accounted for close to a third of all cancers in men and women, respectively.
  • The lifetime risk for having an invasive cancer remained higher for men (44%) than for women (38%).
  • About 1,500 Americans die each day from cancer.

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