For the first time in four decades, lung cancer deaths have begun to decline in women, according to a government report released Thursday. The drop follows a similar decline in men by about 10 years, a lag generally attributed to the fact that women took up smoking later than men and began to give it up later as well.
Overall, cancer incidence rates fell about 1% per year and cancer death rates by about 1.6% per year from 2003 to 2007, according to the annual report to the nation published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The absolute number of cancer cases and cancer deaths continues to increase, however, because the proportion of the population over 65 is growing, and the elderly are the most vulnerable to cancer. The over-65 population is expected to double by 2030 compared with 2000.
Among men, the incidence of liver, kidney and pancreatic cancer and melanoma increased from 2003 to 2007, and death rates increased for three of them: melanoma, liver and pancreatic cancer.
Among women, the incidence of kidney, thyroid and pancreatic cancer increased during the period, as did that of leukemia and melanoma. Death rates increased for pancreatic and liver cancer. Death rates for uterine cancer, which had fallen for the 20 years preceding 1997, rose slightly in the ensuing decade.
Black men and women had the highest death rates from cancer overall, but also had the steepest declines in death rates, indicating that the group is getting more treatment than before. Black men had the highest overall incidence rate for new cancers, while white women had the highest rate among women.
The report included a special section on brain tumors. The researchers found that nonmalignant brain tumors were twice as common as malignant tumors among adults. Brain tumors were much rarer in children, but were twice as likely to be malignant in that group. The most common nonmalignant tumor was a meningioma, and it was 2.3 times as common among women as among men.
The report was compiled by researchers from the National Cancer Institute, the North American Assn. of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society, using data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.