Cancer death rates declining - still room for improvement: Report

Published on January 5, 2012 at 4:34 PM · No Comments

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

According to a new report from the American Cancer Society, fewer Americans are dying of cancer. The society's annual report on cancer statistics showed that cancer death rates have fallen nearly two percent for both men and women over the past five years. However experts warn that people still need to cut down their cancer risk.

The report, called Cancer Statistics 2012, researchers looked at the past ten years of available data from 1999 to 2008 to find the current state of cancer in the U.S. The declines in men's and women's cancer death rates were mainly driven by a 40 percent decline in the number of men dying of lung cancer, and a 34 percent drop in the number of women dying from breast cancer. Lung cancer deaths likely dropped because fewer Americans are smoking and the decline in breast cancer deaths may reflect increases in mammogram screening and declines in hormone use for menopause, the report said.

Dr. Michael V. Seiden, president and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia told WebMD, “Most of the progress in cancer has been incremental…There are more and more Americans who have gotten a little farther away from their last cigarette. The colonoscopy screening rates are nowhere where they should be, but they are slowly creeping up. The mammography screening rates are better as compared to a decade ago.”

Additionally since 1999, cancer death rates have declined in men and women of every racial/ethnic group with the exception of American Indians/Alaska Natives, among whom rates remained steady, the report showed. The most rapid declines in cancer deaths occurred among African American and Hispanic men. Their death rates declined by 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent respectively per year.

The report showed cancer death rates have steadily declined in men since 1990 and in women since 1991. That translates to more than 1 million cancer deaths avoided, the authors write. While this is good news Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told CNN that America could have done a lot better. Looking at the data, Brawley says more than 200,000 cancer deaths could have been prevented in 2008 if people took better care of themselves and smoked less. “It's not truly a war if we have 200,000 avoidable casualties in one year and everybody yawns,” Brawley said.

Most experts add that the decline in death rate does not mean a decline in new cases. The report showed a decline in rates of most types of cancers, but certain cancers - like thyroid, throat, pancreatic, kidney cancer, and melanoma - are on the rise. Part of those increases may be due to better screening or the fact that more and more Americans are becoming obese. “These are worrisome trends which require further study and intervention,” Seiden told HealthDay. The American Cancer Society projects in 2012 there will be more than 1.6 million new cancer cases and more than 577,000 deaths from cancer.

Researchers led by Edgar P. Simard, PhD, MPH, a senior epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, examined trends in incidence rates from 1999 through 2008 for those cancers to detail changes by race, sex and age. They found rates for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma and melanoma increased only in whites, except for esophageal adenocarcinoma, which also increased in Hispanic men. Liver cancer rates increased in white, black and Hispanic men and in black women only. In contrast, incidence rates for thyroid and kidney cancers increased in all racial/ethnic groups except American Indian/Alaska Native men.

The American Cancer Society noted the expected numbers of new cancer cases and cancer deaths should be interpreted with caution because these estimates are based on statistical models and may vary considerably from year to year.

Further drops in the death rate could be accelerated by applying existing cancer knowledge across all segments of the population, with an emphasis on those groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket suggest authors of the report. The report is based on data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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