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From Bad to Better: U.S. Cancer Rates Continue to Drop

Report: Overall Cancer Incidence and Death Rates Are Down, but Seven Cancers Are on the Rise

Racial Disparities Improve, but Persist

Gains were most impressive among African-American and Hispanic men. Death rates from 1999 to 2008 for African-American and Hispanic men dropped by 2.4% and 2.3% per year, respectively, compared to an annual decrease of 1.8% for all men.

Despite that progress, the report found that cancer disparities persist for many minorities.

African-American men, for example, have a 15% higher cancer incidence rate than white men and a 33% higher death rate.

There’s less cancer diagnosed among African-American women compared to white women, but African-American women have a 16% higher death rate than white women.

Some Cancers Increasing

The report includes a special section highlighting seven cancers that are on the rise.

Those include:

  • Mouth and throat cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer
  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma, which is linked to chronic acid reflux, obesity, and smoking
  • Melanoma skin cancer, caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds
  • Liver cancer, which may be related in part to increases in hepatitis B and C infections
  • Thyroid cancer, for unknown reasons, but may be because of better detection
  • Kidney cancer, which may be related to rising obesity
  • Pancreatic cancer, which is linked to smoking, obesity, and family history

The Rising Risk of HPV

Researchers saw some of the steepest increases in HPV-related oral cancers among middle-aged men.

“So rates were higher and increased at a faster rate for men in the 55 to 64 age group compared to men over 65,” says Edgar P. Simard, PhD, MPH, a senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society. That was surprising, Simard says, because cancer rates are typically higher in adults over age 65.

HPV infection of the mouth and throat has been linked to oral sex.

HPV-related cancers usually take years to grow, which is why they’re often successfully caught in women who get regular cervical cancer screenings.

But Simard notes that doctors don’t check for HPV infection in the throat. “There really is no early detection method that’s currently available.”

Additionally, doctors aren’t sure if the HPV vaccine will prevent oral as well as genital cancers. “At the moment, that’s unknown,” he says.

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