June 3, 2004 -- The chances of Americans getting or dying from most types of cancer have dropped in recent years thanks to advances in prevention, early detection, and treatment of cancer, according a new report.
But researchers say not everyone is benefiting equally from these cancer survival advances. Nearly every ethnic and racial group faces a higher risk of cancer death than whites, according to the report.
The annual cancer status report released today shows overall cancer rates dropped by 0.5% per year from 1991 to 2001, and death rates from all cancers fell 1.1% per year from 1993 to 2001. In addition, the percentage of cancer patients who survived more than five years after their initial diagnosis has increased over the last two decades.
Researchers say one of the most notable findings of the report is that lung cancer rates among women appear to be leveling off after increasing for many decades. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women.
"This new report clearly shows we've made considerable gains in reducing the burden of cancer in the United States," says John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, in a news release. "The first ever drop in lung cancer incidence rates in women is remarkable proof that we are making a difference in the number one cancer killer."
Cancer Status Report Shows Progress
The annual cancer status report appears in the current issue of Cancer and is a collaborative effort from the American Cancer Society, the CDC, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. The report provides updated information on cancer rates and trends in the U.S.
This year's report also highlights trends in cancer survival and compared the five-year survival rates of cancer patients who were diagnosed in 1975-1979 and 1995-2000. Researchers found survival rates improved substantially for most of the top 15 cancers in men and women. Gains of more than 10% in survival were seen in cancers of the colon, kidney, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among both men and women as well as prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
But some of the largest gains were in childhood cancer survival.
The report shows that survival rates for childhood cancers increased by 20% in boys and 13% in girls. More than 75% of childhood cancer patients currently survive at least five years beyond their diagnosis compared with dismal survival rates in the 1960s when childhood cancers were nearly always fatal.
Overall, researchers found that death rates from all cancers combined have been decreasing since the early 1990s. Death rates decreased for 11 of the top 15 cancers among men and eight of the top 15 cancers in women.
But some cancers continue to have low survival rates, including cancers of the lung, liver, and pancreas. These cancers are typically diagnosed at late, advanced stages since no effective screening test exists. In addition, even when found at relatively early stages, these cancers still have relatively poor survival rates.
Researchers also reported progress in cancer frequency rates:
- Among men, cancer frequency rates have declined for seven of the top 15 cancer sites: lung, colon, oral cavity, leukemia, stomach, pancreas, and larynx. They increased only for melanoma and cancers of the prostate, kidney, and esophagus.
- Among women, cancer incidence rates decreased for six out of the top 15 cancer sites: lung, colon, cervix, pancreas, ovary, and oral cavity. Increases were seen among breast, thyroid, bladder, and kidney cancer and melanoma.
Racial Differences Persist
But the report also shows that minority groups still face a higher risk of cancer death compared with non-Hispanic whites.
Compared with white men and women, the relative risk of death from all cancers ranged from 16% higher in Hispanic men to 69% higher in American Indian/Alaska Native men. Only Asian/Pacific Islander women had a slightly (1%) lower risk of cancer death compared with white women.
- Black men were at higher risk of dying of 12 cancers compared with white men, with the increased risk ranging from 9% (lung cancer) to 67% (oral cavity).
- Black women had a higher risk of death from 12 cancers, with the increase ranging from 7% (lung cancer) to 82% (corpus uterus and melanoma).
- Non-Hispanic white and Asian/Pacific Islander cancer patients tended to have higher survival rates than other racial and ethnic groups except for patients with brain cancer and leukemia.