updated 11/6/2006 1:14:57 PM ET 2006-11-06T18:14:57

Death rates from cancer are continuing to decline but scientists have uncovered a surprising jump in cases of thyroid cancer.

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Overall cancer death rates declined 1.6 percent annually for men between 1993 and 2003 and 0.8 percent annually for women from 1992-2003, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer released Wednesday.

The report found recent increases in breast cancer appear to have leveled off, but scientists say it’s too soon to call that a trend.

And a special look at the Latino population found that for 1999 to 2003, Latinos had lower incidence rates than non-Hispanic whites for most cancers. However, Latino children have higher incidence rates of leukemia, retinoblastoma, osteosarcoma, and germ cell tumors than do non-Latino white children.

For the total population, death rates decreased for 11 of the 15 most common cancers in men and for 10 of the 15 most common cancers in women, the report said.

“The bottom line is we are making progress. The effort that we are putting into cancer is paying off, but still to keep this trend downward we have to ... increase effort in cancer prevention, detection and treatment,” said Ahnedin Jemal, program director for cancer occurrence at the American Cancer Society.

He attributed the decrease in death rates to efforts to reduce exposure to tobacco, earlier cancer detection and more effective treatment.

The annual report was compiled by the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society.

The study found that thyroid cancer incidence rates among women increased 2.2 percent per year from 1981-1993, 4.6 percent per year from 1993 to 2000 and 9.1 percent per year from 2000 to 2003.

Jemal said this is probably a result of better diagnosis, but added that scientists aren’t sure yet whether another risk factor is involved. The rate of thyroid cancer in men also increased, but not as much as for women, he said.

Also, he noted that breast cancer incidence among women has leveled off from 2001 to 2003 after rising since 1980.

At least two more years of data are needed to determine whether this is just a random fluctuation or is a real trend, Jemal said.

“When there are changes in trends like those reported for breast cancer and thyroid cancer this year, researchers are alerted to look for the causes, often leading to advances in cancer prevention and early detection,” said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

Among men, death rates were decreasing for cancer of the lung and bronchus, prostate, colon and rectum, pancreas, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, urinary bladder, stomach, brain and nervous system, myeloma and oral cavity. Cancers that were stable or increasing were esophagus, liver, kidney and melanoma.

For women, cancer death rates were decreasing for breast, colon and rectum, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, brain and nervous system, myeloma, stomach, kidney, cervix, and urinary bladder. Cancer death rates were stable or rising for lung, pancreas, ovary, uterus and liver.

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