Aug. 13, 2009 -- Death rates from cancer have been decreasing in all age groups in recent years, but the steepest declines have been among younger people, a new study shows.
The findings suggest that measures for prevention, screening, and treatment are leading to lower death rates, researchers report in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
"Our efforts against cancer, including prevention, early detection and better treatment, have resulted in profound gains, but these gains are often unappreciated by the public due to the way the data are usually reported," says Eric Kort, MD, who finished the study while working at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Kort and colleagues analyzed mortality data from 1955 to 2004 reported by the National Center for Health Statistics and yearly U.S. population estimates.
The researchers write that previous reports of cancer mortality rates emphasized what's happening among older people, hiding shifts in deaths caused by the disease in younger groups.
"Age specific cancer mortality rates have been steadily declining in the United States since the early 1950s, beginning with children and young adults and now including all age groups," the researchers write.
In the second half of the 20th century, each successive decade of births from 1925 to 1995 had a lower risk of cancer death than its predecessor, suggesting that earlier detection, prevention, and treatment programs have been effective.
The youngest age groups experienced the steepest average rate of decline at 25.9% per decade, the researchers say. But even the oldest groups recorded a 6.8% decline per decade.