Cancer deaths decline
By Tim Friend, USA TODAY
Death rates from cancer are declining, and the number of new cases is leveling off solid progress that appears to be a result of longstanding national efforts at prevention, screening and early treatment, federal experts report Wednesday.
Cancer experts first began observing a turn-around in trends during the mid-1990s after watching statistics on deaths and new cases rise steadily since the mid-1970s. But the new Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2000 presents the strongest evidence yet that some battles in the war on cancer are being won.
The driving force behind the decline in deaths and new cases has been a steady decrease in lung cancer among men, which experts believe was achieved through prevention programs, says Hannah Weir of the cancer prevention and control division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( news - web sites ).
Trends are also improving for breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, which with lung cancer account for more than half of all new cases and cancer deaths.
Weir says experts are especially encouraged because, for the first time, data for the new report represent 68% of the U.S. population. In previous years, the report, which is prepared by the CDC, the National Cancer Institute ( news - web sites ) (NCI) and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, was based on data from only a handful of states.
Among key findings in the report:
Overall cancer deaths. The rates began to level off in 1992 and decline from 1994 to 1998. Death rates continued to drop, at a slower rate, from 1998 to 2000.
Lung cancer. The steepest decline was seen in lung cancer rates in black and white men. Women's lung cancer death rates rose throughout the 1990s, but the rate of increase has started to slow.
Preventing lung cancer through tobacco control programs has become one of the most powerful anti-cancer weapons, says Brenda Edwards of the NCI.
Worldwide, lung cancer is the most common tumor, with 900,000 cases a year, of which a third involve women. It is the top cause of cancer deaths.
Breast and prostate cancer ( news - web sites ). The statistics show that new cases for both types of cancer have been increasing. But the jump is likely a result of the widespread use of mammography screening for women and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for men rather than an actual increase in cases. Death rates for both breast and prostate cancer appear to be declining, though not as dramatically as for lung cancer.
Prostate cancer deaths have been declining since 1993. The reason is unclear. Urologists say PSA testing leads to earlier treatment, but Weir says that is unproven. Prostate cancer deaths have declined in countries where PSA tests are rarely used, researchers say.
Colorectal cancer. Death rates continue to drop as new diagnoses have stabilized. Detection of pre-cancerous polyps may be the reason, Edwards says.