- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Advances in early detection and treatment of cancer have made it a curable disease for some and a chronic illness for others, as more and more Americans survive it.

A new report, based on data collected from 1971 to 2001 and prepared by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that the number of Americans surviving cancer climbed more than threefold, from 3 million to 9.8 million, in the past 30 years.

“Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease. The number of cancer survivors in this country has increased steadily over the past 30 years for all cancers combined,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said.

Mr. Thompson added that federal health officials expect the number of cancer survivors to continue rising as improvements are made in cancer detection and treatment and as the population ages.

The report, titled “Cancer Survivorship — United States, 1971-2001,” was published yesterday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

It shows that the majority of cancer survivors, or 61 percent, are 65 and older. The report also estimates that one of every six Americans older than 65 is a cancer survivor. A third of cancer survivors — the second biggest proportion — are ages 40 to 64.

“Cancer traditionally has been a disease that’s affected the elderly disproportionately,” said Steve Jones, spokesman for the American Cancer Society’s South Atlantic region.

“With better treatment and screening and greater awareness of what you can do to prevent it and detect it early, it’s helping all age groups,” including the one most at risk, which also is the fastest-growing population, Mr. Jones said.

Data in the report also show that:

• Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults whose cancers are diagnosed today can expect to be living in five years. (That’s up from 50 percent for adults diagnosed with cancer from 1975 to 1979)

A national health objective for 2010 is to increase to 70 percent the proportion of cancer survivors living five years after diagnosis. Children already have reached that goal.

• Seventy-nine percent of childhood cancer survivors can expect to be living five years after diagnosis, and nearly 75 percent will be living 10 years after diagnosis.

By comparison, from 1975 to 1979, 56 percent of children younger than 14 were expected to live five years after diagnosis.

• Breast-cancer survivors make up the largest category of cancer survivors in the country at 22 percent. Prostate-cancer survivors are second at 17 percent. Survivors of colorectal cancer rank third at 11 percent, and survivors of gynecologic cancers are fourth at 10 percent.

“Underscoring this change (in improved survival), persons with diagnoses of cancer increasingly are described as ‘cancer survivors,’ rather than ‘cancer victims,’” the report notes.

It’s the second report issued this month that features good news on the cancer survival front.

A prior report, which was a collaborative effort by the CDC, NCI, the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, showed that U.S. death rates for all cancers combined have fallen steadily since the 1990s. The list included the four top cancer killers: lung, colon, breast and prostate.

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