The childhood death rate from cancer fell 20% in the United States from 1990 to 2004 largely because of improvements in treatment for leukemia, but children in the West still have the highest mortality rate, according to government figures released Thursday.
There were 2,223 cancer deaths among children and adolescents in 2004, compared with 2,457 in 1990, researchers from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Because of population growth, that translates to a rate of 27.3 cancer deaths per million in 2004 compared with 34.2 per million in 1990. Overall, the cancer death rate for children declined 1.7% per year during the period.
Among adults, death rates from all cancers peaked in 1990 for men and the following year for women, then began dropping about 1% per year. In 2003 and 2004, the rate of decline doubled to 2% a year.
Dr. Lori Pollack, one of the authors of the report, noted that incidence rates for childhood cancer have stayed the same over that period. Only survival has improved, she said.
Cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death for children and adolescents, after accidents, homicides and suicides.
Death rates from leukemia dropped by 3% a year over the period, according to the report. In 2004, leukemia accounted for 25.5% of deaths, with brain and other nervous system tumors accounting for another 25%.
Boys had a significantly higher death rate, 33.1 deaths per million, than girls, with 26.1 per million.
In an editorial note, CDC officials said that the data did not reveal why children in the West have an approximately 6% higher death rate.