Cancer deaths continue to dip
The numbers are in, and there’s some positive news this week from the American Cancer Society about the number of new cancer cases and deaths in the United States.
In short: they’re declining.
No one’s denying that cancer remains a public health crisis in this nation, with some 1.5 million new cases and more than 550,000 deaths expected to occur in 2010. Yet lurking within these undeniably large figures are some encouraging long-term trends, particularly for the most common cancers.
So how have these changes come about? Certainly not overnight, and for a variety of reasons, as Dr. J. Leonard “Len” Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for ACS, reflects in a recent blog entry:
Not all of this was due to some remarkable breakthrough in medical treatment, although some of it certainly is due to better cancer care. Much of it has to do with stopping smoking, or not starting for that matter, especially among men. Much of it has to do with better screening and early detection of breast and colorectal cancer, and perhaps prostate cancer (although we are not certain about the latter). Some of it may have to do with lifestyle changes, such as increased awareness of the importance of exercise and diet in reducing cancer risk.
The full ACS report, which was published online in the journal Cancer on July 7 and is based on the latest U.S. government data, is worth a read, but here are a few major nuggets:
- Cancer death and incidence rates appear to be decreasing at a more rapid rate in men than in women. Cancer death rates dropped 21.0 percent among men and 12.3 percent among women during 1991 to 2006—which translates to averting about 767,000 deaths from cancer over that time period. Incidence rates dipped 1.3 percent per year among men from 2000 to 2006 and 0.5 percent per year from 1998 to 2006 among women.
- These decreases are not uniform across all racial and ethnic groups for a variety of reasons, including disparities in access to screening tools and treatment persist. For example, African American men have a 14 percent higher incidence rate and a 34 percent higher death rate than white men for all cancer sites combined, whereas African American women have a 7 percent lower incidence rate, but a 17 percent higher death rate than white women.
- Overall, four types of cancer account for more than half of the expected cases in 2010: prostate, lung, and colorectal in men, and lung, breast and colorectal cancer in women.
- There are some notable state-by-state differences in cancer incidence. Namely, lung cancer rates in both men and women are about three times higher in Kentucky, which ranks highest in smoking prevalence, than in Utah, which ranks lowest.
- Cancer survival among children has gotten a boost over the years. Although cancer remains the second leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 14 (accidents are the No. 1 cause), the 5-year relative survival rate among children for all cancer sites combined has jumped from 58 percent for patients diagnosed between 1975 and 1977 to 81 percent for those diagnosed between 1999 and 2005.
What now? This report offers evidence that even more work needs to be done in preventing, detecting and treating cancers, particularly in underserved groups, and Hutchinson Center researchers are working toward our mission of bringing down those numbers even further. Check out our disease research pages to learn more about what they’re studying and discovering lately.
By Anne Broache
Quest science writer