Cancer death rates dropping faster than ever in US

Death rates are dropping faster than ever, thanks to new progress against colorectal cancer. Between 2002 and 2004, death rates dropped by an average of 2. 1 percent a year. That may not sound like much, but between 1993 and 2001, deaths rates dropped on average 1. 1 percent a year. The big change was a two-pronged gain against colorectal cancer. While it remains the nation’s No. 2 cancer killer, deaths are dropping faster for colorectal cancer than for any other malignancy — by almost 5 percent a year among men and 4. 5 percent among women.

One reason that colorectal cancer is striking fewer people is screening tests that can spot precancerous polyps in time to remove them and thus prevent cancer from forming. The other gain is the result of new treatments, which are credited with doubling survival times for the most advanced patients. In 1996, there was just one truly effective drug for colon cancer. Today, there are six more, giving patients a variety of chemotherapy cocktails to try to hold their tumors in check, said Dr. Louis Weiner, medical oncology chief at Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center and a colorectal cancer specialist. In the annual “Report to the Nation” on cancer the other findings are.

• Cancer mortality is improving faster among men, with drops in death rates of 2. 6 percent a year compared with 1. 8 percent a year for women. • Lung cancer explains much of the gender difference. Male death rates are dropping about 2 percent a year while female death rates finally are holding steady after years of increases.

Smoking rates fell for men before they did for women, so men reaped the benefits sooner. • Overall, the rate of new cancer diagnoses is inching down about one-half a percent a year. • New breast cancer diagnoses are dropping about 3. 5 percent a year, a previously reported decline due either to women shunning postmenopausal hormone therapy or to fewer getting mammograms. The report includes a special focus on cancer among American Indians and Alaskan natives.

Overall, cancer incidence is lower among those populations than among white Americans, except for cancers of the stomach, liver, kidney, gallbladder and cervix. First issued in 1998, the “Annual Report to the Nation” is collaboration among the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).

It provides updated information on cancer rates and trends in the United States. Death rates from all cancers combined declined 1. 5 percent per year from 1993 to 2002 in men, compared to a 0. 8 percent decline in women from 1992 to 2002. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Death rates decreased for 12 of the top 15 cancers in men, and nine of the top 15 cancers in women.

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