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Annual Report: Rate of Cancer Deaths Continues to Fall

Article date: March 28, 2012

By Stacy Simon

The rate of death in the United States from all cancers combined is continuing the decline that began in the early 1990s, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published early online Wednesday in the American Cancer Society journal, Cancer. Death rates decreased on average 1.6% per year between 2004 and 2008. The report’s special feature section focuses on important risk factors for several types of cancer—excess weight and lack of physical activity.

The American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute work together to create the report, which has been published since 1998. It provides an update of new cancer cases, death rates, and trends in the United States.

The rate of new cancer cases among men decreased by an average 0.6% per year between 1994 and 2008. For women, the rate of new cancer cases decreased 0.5% per year from 1998 through 2006, and stayed the same from 2006 through 2008. For children, trends from 1992 continued; the rate of new cancer cases increased 0.6% per year from 2004 through 2008. Death rates, however, decreased 1.3% percent per year for children during the same period.

Race and ethnicity

The highest rates of new cancer cases between 2004 and 2008 were among black men and white women. Cancer death rates from 2004 through 2008 were highest among black men and black women, but these groups showed the largest declines for the period between 1999 and 2008, compared with other racial groups.

The report attributes the differences in cancer death and incidence rates to differences in risk factors, as well as access to and use of screening and treatment.

Specific cancer types

For the second year in a row, death rates from lung cancer have dropped among women. Lung cancer death rates in men also dropped, as they have since the early 1990s. The report attributes the decline to states with comprehensive anti-tobacco programs. Women’s death rates from lung cancer started dropping many years later than men’s because they started smoking in large numbers much later.

Colon cancer death rates and the rate of new cases continue to decline, which the report attributes to improvements in the use of colon cancer screening. The rate of breast cancer cases declined from 1999 through 2004 and stayed the same from 2004 through 2008.

The rate of new cases of some cancers, including pancreas, kidney, thyroid, liver, and a type of esophageal cancer, increased from 1999 through 2008. Among the risk factors for these kinds of cancer are excess weight and lack of physical activity.

Weight and physical activity

Each year, the report includes a special feature section. This year highlights the effects of excess weight and lack of physical activity on cancer risk. Colon, kidney, pancreatic, endometrial, a type of esophageal cancer, and breast cancer among postmenopausal women are associated with being overweight or obese. Several of these cancers also are associated with getting too little physical activity.

For more than 30 years, excess weight, not enough physical activity, and an unhealthy diet have been second only to tobacco as preventable causes of disease and death in the United States. However, since the 1960s, tobacco use has declined by a third while obesity rates have doubled. In addition to increasing cancer risk, excess weight and lack of physical activity also increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis.

“In the United States, 2 in 3 adults are overweight or obese and fewer than half get enough physical activity,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “Between children and youth, 1 in 3 is overweight or obese, and fewer than 1 in 4 high school students get recommended levels of physical activity. Obesity and physical inactivity are critical problems facing all states. For people who do not smoke, excess weight and lack of sufficient physical activity may be among the most important risk factors for cancer.”

The report notes that for people who don’t smoke, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life may be among the most important ways to prevent cancer. (For smokers, quitting is still the most important.) Excess weight is thought to increase cancer risk by the way it affects immune function, inflammation, and hormones. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week.

The report concludes that continued progress against cancer in the United States will require individual and community efforts to promote healthy weight and sufficient physical activity among youth and adults.

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. For reprint requests, please contact permissionrequest@cancer.org.

Citation: Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2008, Featuring Cancers Associated with Excess Weight and Lack of Sufficient Physical Activity. Published early online March 28, 2012 in the journal, Cancer. First author: Christie Eheman, PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.

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