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Cancer Deaths in U.S. Still Dropping

But Death Rates for Less Educated People Remain High

Lung Cancer Still Leading Killer

Lung cancer remains the leading cancer killer among both men and women, with close to 157,000 deaths -- or 27% of all cancer deaths -- expected in 2011.

Since 1987, more women have died each year from lung cancer than from breast cancer, but lung cancer deaths have finally began to decline in women more than a decade after the death rate began to fall in men.

This is because women started smoking in large numbers decades after men, and also began quitting the habit decades later.

Breast Cancer Continues to Decline

An estimated 231,000 new diagnosis of invasive breast cancer and 40,000 breast cancer deaths are expected among women this year.

Breast cancer death rates have declined steadily since 1990, with the largest decreases seen in women under 50.

Incidence has also declined since 2000, with a dramatic 7% decline in the early part of the decade attributed to reductions in the use of hormone replacement therapy around the time of menopause.

Breast cancer specialist Leslie Montgomery, MD, tells WebMD death rates from breast cancer should continue to decline as more targeted treatments become available and researchers learn more about which patients will benefit from which treatments.

Montgomery is chief of the division of breast surgery and the director of breast service at Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx.

“The goal is to be able to know ahead of time which patients will benefit from chemotherapy and which ones don’t need it,” she says. “The majority of ladies with breast cancer probably don’t need chemotherapy, but we don’t really know who they are.”

Montgomery spent 11 years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan’s Upper East Side before moving to Montefiore, which serves a largely economically disadvantaged population.

She says she has seen firsthand the challenges that patients without economic or educational resources face.

“I’ve had patients tell me that breast cancer is just not their biggest problem,” she says. “Many of these women have no support systems and no wiggle room to be sick.”

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