- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Death rates for all cancers combined have fallen steadily in the United States since the 1990s, including among the four top cancer killers: lung, colon, breast and prostate, a new report by the nation’s leading cancer groups said.

The study, called the “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975 to 2001,” found that death rates from all cancers combined dropped 1.1 percent annually from 1993 to 2001.

“This is wonderful. We are really making progress” in fighting cancer, said Ahmedin Jemal, program director of cancer surveillance for the American Cancer Society (ACS), who was the report’s lead author.

Dr. Jemal said that the American cancer death rate peaked in 1991, and that from then to 2001, the overall death rate dropped 9 percent to 10 percent.

Authors of the study said the new data reflect factors such as more aggressive prevention, earlier detection, improved treatment and longer survival.

“Survival has really improved,” said Brenda Edwards, associate director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), who has worked on the annual cancer studies for the past seven years.

Dr. Edwards said from 1975 to 1979, there was an overall five-year cancer survival rate of 43 percent. By 1995 to 2000, the five-year survival rate had increased to 64 percent.

The annual cancer report is a collaborative effort by NCI, ACS, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

“Overall, cancer death rates are declining,” Dr. Jemal said. He added that this positive development includes “all cancers combined and the most common types of cancer.”

Death rates have fallen in 11 of the top 15 types of cancer afflicting men, he said. They also have dropped in eight of the top 15 types of cancer affecting women.

Dr. Jemal noted that death rates have fallen for the “four major types of cancer.” He said lung-cancer deaths have declined, but only in men. Deaths from colon cancer have dropped in both men and women. Breast-cancer deaths have declined among women, while prostate-cancer deaths have decreased among men.

Lung-cancer death rates among women leveled off for the first time between 1995 and 2001, after rising for many decades. And the lung-cancer incidence among women is declining.

“This new report clearly shows we’ve made considerable gains in reducing the burden of cancer in the United States,” said John R. Seffin, chief executive officer of the ACS.

“The first ever drop in lung-cancer incidence rate in women is remarkable proof that we are making a difference in the No. 1 cancer killer and is powerful evidence that our successful efforts must continue,” Mr. Seffin said.

Childhood cancers have shown some of the biggest improvements in survival during the past two decades. There has been an increase of 20 percent in the survival rate among boys and of 13 percent among girls.

The current five-year survival rate of more than 75 percent for children with cancer confirms the substantial progress that has been made in this area, beginning with President Nixon’s War on Cancer in the early 1970s. In the prior decade, childhood cancers were nearly always fatal.

Despite all the good news in the new cancer report, it showed that not all U.S. populations have benefited equally. It also identified some malignancies, such as liver cancers in which the death rate continues to rise.

Cancer remains the nation’s No. 2 medical killer after heart disease. In 2001, 553,768 Americans died of cancer, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Black men and women were both found to be at higher risk of dying from cancer than white people.

Black men had a 9 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer than white men and a 67 percent greater risk of mortality from cancer of the oral cavity than white men.

Black women had a 7 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer than white women. Also, their risk of dying from cancer of the uterus or from melanoma, or skin cancer, was 82 percent greater than white women.

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