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Annual Report: Cancer Death Rate Down; Increase in Certain Cancer Types

Article date: December 7, 2009

By: Rebecca V.  Snowden

The cancer death rate and the number of new cancer cases in the United States continue to drop, according to an annual report released today by leading health organizations. However, certain types of cancer appear to be on the rise.

The findings come from the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2006, Featuring Colorectal Cancer Trends and Impact of Interventions (Risk Factors, Screening, and Treatment) to Reduce Future Rates, authored by researchers from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).

"The continued decline in incidence and death rates for all cancers combined is extremely encouraging, but progress has been more limited for certain types of cancer, including many cancers that are currently less amenable to screening, such as cancer of esophagus, liver and pancreas,” said Betsy Kohler, executive director of NAACCR.

Steady decline overall

According to the report, the cancer death rate for men and women combined fell 1.6% per year during 2001-2006, in keeping with the steady downward trend that started in the 1990s. Men saw slightly larger declines in cancer death rates (1.5% per year during 1993-2001 and 2.0% per year during 2001-2006) compared to women (0.8% per year during 1994-2002 and 1.5% per year during 2002-2006).

New diagnoses for all types of cancer combined (known as incidence) also decreased, about 1% per year on average from 1999 to 2006. Here, too, the decline was steeper among men compared to women, dropping 1.3% per year from 2000 through 2006 in men compared to 0.5% per year from 1998 through 2006 in women. 

“The continued decline in overall cancer rates documents the success we have had with our aggressive efforts to reduce risk in large populations, to provide for early detection, and to develop new therapies that have been successfully applied in this past decade,” said NCI Director John E. Niederhuber, MD.

“Yet we cannot be content with this steady reduction in incidence and mortality. We must, in fact, accelerate our efforts to get individualized diagnoses and treatments to all Americans and our belief is that our research efforts and our vision are moving us rapidly in that direction,” he said.

Certain cancer types increase

While men saw greater declines, overall cancer death and incidence rates still remain much higher among men than women. And while rates of the most common cancer types in men (prostate, colorectal, and lung) are falling, incidence rates are up for others, including kidney, liver, and esophageal cancers, as well as leukemia, myeloma, and melanoma – cancers that are generally harder to detect early.

Among women, rates for two of the most common cancers, breast and colorectal, have declined somewhat. Lung cancer rates, however, increased. Other cancers also on the rise among women include thyroid, pancreatic, bladder, and kidney cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, and leukemia.

Among racial and ethnic groups, cancer death rates were highest among black men and women, and black men had the highest rate of incidence overall. However, there are some positive indicators for this group. For example, black men were less likely than white men to die of pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the United States, and prostate cancer incidence among black men declined significantly.

Focus on colorectal cancer

This year's report includes a special section on colorectal cancer, with estimates on colorectal cancer mortality and incidence trends through 2020.

According to the report, colorectal cancer death rates have been falling since 1984 in men and since 1975 in women, with a more marked decline in recent years. For new diagnoses, men and women 65 years and older have seen the greatest declines, while cases are up in people under 50.

Using modeling, the researchers estimated how controlling colorectal cancer risk factors (smoking and lack of physical activity, for example), increasing screening rates using colonoscopy and other tests, and improving treatment may affect colorectal cancer rates in the future. Based on their estimates, if current trends persist, Americans could see a 36% decline in colorectal cancer death rates by 2020. With greater improvements in risk factor control, screening and treatment, that reduction could be as much as 50%.

"The extraordinary progress on colorectal cancer shows what can be achieved by coordinated and targeted efforts to apply existing knowledge to cancer control at the state and federal level,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

“Increases in colorectal cancer screening have been achieved through a variety of efforts, including education of the public and medical community and advocacy for health insurance coverage of the full range of colorectal cancer screening tests," said Seffrin. "The American Cancer Society is committed to continuing these efforts to get as close as we can to the potential 50 percent colorectal cancer mortality reduction that this report says is possible."

The report appears online today in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

Citation: "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2006, Featuring Colorectal Cancer Trends and Impact of Interventions (Risk Factors, Screening, and Treatment) to Reduce Future Rates." Published online December 7, 2009 in Cancer. First author: Brenda K. Edwards, PhD, Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. 

  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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