The death rate from most forms of cancer has continued a decline begun in the early 1990s, driven in large part by decreases in lung cancer in men, according to an annual national cancer report released Wednesday.
Between 1993 and 2003, deaths in the U.S. from cancer dropped about 16% in men and 8% in women, the study found. Deaths from lung cancer declined about 15% in men.
This year's report, which was published in the journal Cancer, also showed the first leveling-off of breast cancer rates, though researchers could not fully explain why.
They added, however, that better treatment, prevention and diagnosis had all helped lower cancer deaths in general over the years. About 560,000 Americans die each year from cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
"Basically, we haven't wiped out cancer, but it shows in the last decade ... we're slowly moving in the right direction," said Dr. Robert McKenna Jr., a thoracic surgical oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who was not affiliated with the study.
The report analyzed data on all deaths from cancer in the United States from 1975 to 2003.
During that period, the most lethal cancers in men -- lung, prostate and colorectal -- all showed declines.
Among the top three killers of women, only colorectal cancer deaths showed a decline.
The rate of lung cancer in women rose about 2% from 1995 to 2003, though it is gradually slowing.
Men, who smoked in larger numbers, evidently got the message earlier about the health risks, said Holly L. Howe, the report's lead author and executive director at the North American Assn. of Central Cancer Registries.
She said she expected the death rate among women also would begin to drop in a few more years.
The study found that the rate of newly diagnosed cancer cases had remained relatively steady over the last decade.
One significant exception is the rate of thyroid cancer in women, which doubled in the mid-1990s and doubled again from 2000 to 2003.
The report, which was written by researchers from several cancer groups, including the National Cancer Institute, also includes the first comprehensive look at cancer in the Latino population, the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S.
Compared with non-Latino whites and blacks, Latinos had lower incidence rates for most types of cancer. Latino men developed colorectal cancer at a rate of about 52 per 100,000, compared with rates of 65 and 71, respectively, for non-Latino whites and blacks.
However, Latinos did develop more cancers associated with viral and bacterial infections such as cervical, stomach and liver cancer.
This is in part because they come from countries where they may be more exposed to infections, said Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"They may be protected because their diet may be more associated with vegetables and beans and things like that," Ganz added. "Earlier pregnancy may also be protective for breast cancer."
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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death.
U.S. death rates* for the top five cancers, by sex (1999-2003)
Lung and bronchus: 74.8
Colon and rectum: 24.3
Lung and bronchus: 41.0
Colon and rectum: 17.0
*Per 100,000 people
Sources: American Cancer Society; Associated Press