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Annual Report: Rates of New Cancers, Cancer Deaths, Dropping

Article date: March 31, 2011

By Melissa Weber

The rate of newly diagnosed cancers is declining in the United States and overall death rates from cancer continue to steadily fall, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

As a whole, the rate of new cancer diagnoses for American men and women fell by 0.8% per year between 2003 and 2007. Cancer death rates during that same span continued a decline seen since the early 1990s, with this most recent data tracking a 1.6% annual decline. The report looked specifically at the 15 most common cancers in men and women, plus the 15 most common causes of cancer death.

Drop in Lung Cancer Deaths


Standing out in these latest statistics is some good news for the No. 1 cancer killer: lung cancer. The rate of women dying of lung cancer is going down, following decades of increases. The drop comes about a decade after lung cancer death rates in men began to fall. “Women started smoking later than men, so the peak in lung cancer mortality came much later,” says Lynn Ries, MS, a health statistician for the National Cancer Institute and a co-author of the report.

Ries hopes the decline persists as fewer women have picked up smoking. But she’s keeping a close eye on women born around 1960—a population with a slightly higher prevalence of smoking than other age groups. “There’s some concern that later on we may see them have higher lung cancer mortality rates than other [groups],” she says.

Many Positive Patterns

For the big four cancers—lung, breast, colorectal and prostate—death rates are decreasing. Among men, rates decreased for lung, prostate, colorectal, kidney, stomach, brain and oral cavity cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia between 2003 and 2007. For women, mortality rates fell during the same five-year period for breast, ovarian, lung, bladder, colorectal, brain, stomach and kidney cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma.

For the first time, lung cancer death rates among women dropped nearly 1% per year from 2003 to 2007. Compare that to the late 1970s when lung cancer death rates in women were climbing at a rate of 6% each year. “This is good news. We’ve been waiting to see this decrease,” says Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, vice president of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society.

The report is a joint effort of the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that not all cancer survival rates are up: more men and women are dying of liver and pancreatic cancers.

When looking at new diagnoses in men from 2003 to 2007, incidence rates are down for lung, colorectal, oral cavity, stomach and brain cancers. Incidence rates were up for kidney, pancreatic and liver cancers, as well as melanoma. For women, incidence rates increased for melanoma, leukemia and cancers of the kidney, pancreas, and thyroid, but decreased for breast, lung, colorectal, uterine, cervical, bladder, and oral cavity cancers.

The Gaps

The gains aren’t sweeping: black men and women continue to die from cancer at a higher rate than any other racial group. But that may be starting to change. Between 1998 and 2007, blacks experienced the steepest decline in cancer death rates compared to whites due to larger decreases in smoking-related cancers such as lung and oral cavity, Jemal says.

However, the disparity in mortality rates for blacks compared to whites is widening for cancers most affected by screening and effective treatments, Jemal says. “This points to the continued racial differences in access to care.”

This year’s report took a closer look at brain tumors, which appear to have a 2 in 3 chance of being benign (non-invasive). Expecting to see an even split between malignant and benign tumors, Ries was surprised to find that nearly two-thirds of brain tumors diagnosed in adults from 2004 to 2007 were benign. The opposite held true in children, with benign tumors making up only about a third.

Keep Progress Moving

So why is a smaller portion of Americans getting cancer or dying from it?

Better prevention methods, early detection through screening, and new therapies have helped make big strides. Nevertheless, more than 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer last year and nearly 570,000 died of the disease, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society.

Prevention is the goal because a person can’t die from a disease they never get, Jemal says. “If people stop smoking, then they will substantially reduce their risk of getting lung cancer or other smoking-related cancers. If people were to get regular screening for colorectal cancer, they would reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.”

Early detection methods are making differences, but only for a handful of cancers. Getting a colonoscopy or certain other colon screening tests, for instance, can find a polyp before it transforms into cancer. Pap tests can catch cervical changes before they become cancer. But replicating these outcomes for other cancers will require more research to develop new early detection methods, which are likely to be unique for each cancer, Jemal says.


 Reviewed by members of the ACS Medical Content  and News Staff

“Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2007, Featuring Tumors of the Brain and Other Nervous System.” Published online March 31, 2011 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Betsy A. Kohler, North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

“Cancer Statistics, 2010.” Published in the September/October 2010 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author: Ahmedin Jemal, American Cancer Society.

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