WASHINGTON – Declines in U.S. cancer death rates are accelerating, federal health agencies and the American Cancer Society reported today.
Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the trend “demonstrates important progress” in fighting cancer.
The drop in cancer death rates has nearly doubled in recent years, analysts said. Moreover, given the current trends in cancer control, “we should expect to see continuing declines,” said David Espey, a physician at the CDC’s Cancer Prevention and Control division and a co-author of the study.
Cancer death rates are the best measure of progress against the second-leading killer of Americans, after heart disease. Their overall decline was first spotted in the 1990s, when the death rate drop averaged about 1.1 percent a year. By the 2002-2004 period, the rate was 2.1 percent, according to the new assessment. It found the greatest gains against four leading killers: colorectal cancer in men and women, prostate cancer in men, breast cancer in women and lung cancer in men.
For men, the death rates declined for 12 of the 15 most common causes of cancer: lung, prostate, colon and rectal, pancreatic, bladder, kidney, stomach, brain, oral cavity, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. The death rate for melanoma was flat. Death rates for esophageal and liver cancers were up.
For women, death rates declined for 10 of the 15 most common cancers: breast, colon and rectal, stomach, kidney, cervical, brain, bladder, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma. Flat were rates for pancreatic, ovarian and uterine. Up: liver and lung.
The study is based on cases reported by cancer registries nationwide and deaths due to cancer submitted by doctors on death certificates compiled by state vital statistics offices. Preliminary data for 2005 aren’t expected until January.
Among new cancer diagnoses, breast cancer showed the sharpest recent drop – 3.5 percent a year in 2002-2004 – according to the report. Espey attributes it mainly to a fall-off in women’s use of hormone replacement drugs after researchers linked such treatments to increases in breast and ovarian cancer.
Overall, early detection and improved treatments helped, especially in the prevention of colorectal cancer through screening and removal of precancerous polyps.
The lung cancer death rate for men continued to fall. For women, who generally both took up and gave up smoking years later than men did, the death rate plateaued at 0.2 percent in 2002-2004. In the 1990s, the women’s lung cancer death rate rose nearly 2 percent a year; in the 1980s, it rose nearly 4 percent a year.
“They were behind the curve in tobacco cessation,” Espey said.