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Cancer Rates Keep Sliding

June 03, 2004|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Americans' risks of getting cancer and dying from it are continuing to decline as a result of better detection, prevention and treatment, according to the latest annual report by several cancer organizations.

And for the first time in decades, the number of new cases of lung cancer among women has dropped, and the death rate has leveled off as anti-smoking campaigns have begun to reduce women's tobacco use. The decline comes decades after a similar effect was observed in men.

Overall, the number of new cancer cases dropped an average of 0.5% per year between 1991 and 2001, while death rates dropped 1.1% per year from 1993 to 2001, according to the report, which will be published online today. It will appear in the July 1 issue of the journal Cancer.

"This new report clearly shows we've made considerable gains in reducing the burden of cancer in the United States," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, which produced the report in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Assn. of Central Cancer Registries.

For women, the incidence of lung cancer has declined about 2% per year since 1998, while the number of deaths has remained virtually constant since 1995. Typically, a drop in the death rate lags several years behind a decrease in incidence for any cancer. Lung cancer is still the most deadly type for both sexes, however, and the second-most-common type of malignancy, trailing colorectal cancer.

Overall death rates for cancer have been decreasing since the early 1990s due to earlier detection and more effective treatments. Survival rates -- defined as living at least five years after diagnosis -- improved for 11 of the 15 most common cancers in men and for eight of the top 15 in women. Rates were stable for the remainder.

Childhood cancers showed the greatest improvement, with a survival rate increase of 20% in boys and 13% in girls over the decade. The current overall survival rate of more than 75% represents a dramatic increase since the early 1960s, when childhood cancers were nearly always fatal.

"These survival statistics are a reason for optimism," said Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute. "They show us that we are on the right track ... to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer."

Progress, however, has not come evenly to all populations.

Black women are 52% more likely to die of cancer than non-Latino whites, and Latino women are 20% more likely to die. Black men are 26% more likely to die of cancer, and Latino men 16% more likely.

The authors attributed the differences to poorer access to early detection and prevention services.



Getting better

Survival rates for cancer have improved for all ages and both genders.

Increase in survival rate*

*--* Male Female All cancers 21.3% 7.7% Lung and bronchus2.0% 0.6% Colon and rectum13.4% 10.8% Leukemia12.2% 8.5%


*1995-2000 compared to 1975-79

Cancer incidence

The latest report on U.S. cancer rates and mortality shows that the overall incidence of cancer dropped about 0.5% per year from 1991 to 2001.

Male: Declining





Oral cavity



Male: Increasing





Female: Declining




Oral cavity



Female: Increasing






Sources: American Cancer Society, Associated Press

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