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Cancer Death Rate Steadily Declining

Article date: May 27, 2009

By Rebecca Viksnins Snowden

Cancer death rates are falling steadily, according to the American Cancer Society's annual cancer statistics report, Cancer Facts & Figures 2009, and its companion article "Cancer Statistics, 2009," published in the Society's CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The drop is driven in large part by better prevention, increased use of early detection practices, and improved treatments for cancer.

Cancer death rates dropped 19.2% among men during 1990-2005 and 11.4% among women during 1991-2005. Cancer incidence rates are also on the decline – they decreased 1.8% per year among men from 2001-2005 and 0.6% per year from 1998-2005 among women. 

"A drop of 1 or 2% per year may sound small, but as this report shows, that adds up to 650,000 cancer deaths avoided over 15 years," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, American Cancer Society chief executive officer. "And because the rate continues to drop, it means that in recent years, about 100,000 people each year who would have died had cancer rates not declined are living to celebrate another birthday. That is undeniable evidence of the lifesaving progress that we as a country must dedicate ourselves to continuing." 

ACS researchers estimate that there will be about 1,479,350 million new cancer cases and about 562,340 cancer deaths in 2009. For all cancers diagnosed from 1996-2004, the 5-year relative survival rate is 66%, up from 50% in 1975-1977. That increase reflects improvements in both early detection and treatment.

Decreases in deaths from lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer accounted for nearly 80% of the decline in death rates among men, while decreases in breast and colorectal cancer made up 60% of the decrease among women. Those numbers suggest early detection practices – using colonoscopy to catch colon cancer early, for example -- are working, and also reflect improvements in treatment. The decline in the lung cancer death rate among men is due to drops in tobacco use; the lung cancer death rate among women has stabilized after increasing for many decades.

According to the report, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers account for about half of all cancer diagnoses among men; in women, breast, lung, and colorectal cancer account for about half of new cancer cases. Together, these cancers account for almost half of the cancer deaths among men and women.

African-American men have an 18% higher incidence rate and 36% higher cancer death rate compared to white men, according to the report. African-American women are less likely than white women to get cancer, but when they do get it, they're more likely to die from it.

ACS researchers also noted that lung cancer rates vary greatly regionally, reflecting differences in tobacco use among states. In contrast, rates for other cancers – breast and prostate, for example – tended to be similar across the country.

Each year, ACS researchers include a special section in Cancer Facts & Figures highlighting an issue of cancer research or care. This year, researchers offer the latest information about cancer survivors' risk for developing a second cancer.

For more information, see Cancer Facts & Figures 2009

Citation: "Cancer Statistics, 2009." Published online May 27, 2009 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Corresponding author: Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, Surveillance and Health Policy Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia.

 Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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