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U.S. cancer death rate continues to drop

The U.S. cancer death rate continues to decline, including the four most common types of cancer, the National Cancer Institute said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The rate of cancer cases diagnosed in the United States has stabilized, but the cancer death rate continues to decline, including the four most common types of cancer — prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal — the National Cancer Institute said Thursday.

Americans are taking some steps to help prevent cancer, the agency said, and the use of some screening tests is at high rates in an effort to detect cancers early.

“The overall message of the report remains positive,” NCI Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach said in releasing the report. “The evidence that I have seen convinces me that we are poised to make dramatic gains against cancer in the near future.”

The rate of new cases of cancer was 488.6 per 100,000 Americans in 2002, close to the rate of 488.1 a year earlier, according to the report, which is updated every other year.

At the same time, the death rate for all cancers was 193.6 per 100,000, down from 195.7 a year earlier and continuing a steady downward trend.

For the four most common cancers the death rates were:

  • Prostate, 28.0 per 100,000, down from 28.9.
  • Breast, 25.4, down from 26.0.
  • Colorectal, 19.6, down from 20.1.
  • Lung, 54.8, down from 55.2.

The report charts progress against goals set for reducing cancer rates and deaths by 2010. The first report was issued in 2001.

This year’s update noted a continuing rise in lung cancer death rates in women, but said it was not increasing as rapidly as in the past.

The Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, said there have been continuing increases in the incidence of cancers of the breast in women and of prostate and testicles in men, as well as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, melanoma of skin, and cancers of the thyroid, kidney, and esophagus.

There have been some improvements in behavior aimed to prevent cancers, including reductions in smoking and declines in alcohol and fat consumption, the Institute said in its biannual report on progress in battling cancer. Some of the same data were included in the institute’s annual report issued in October.

Smoking by youths, which had been growing in the 1990s, has been declining since 1997, the report said. Youths are starting to smoke later, with average age for first use of cigarettes at 15.4 in 2003, up from 14.9 a decade earlier. And the percentage of high schoolers who smoked cigarettes fell from 30.5 percent to 21.9 percent in the same period.

The use of screening tests for breast and cervical cancers is high and remained stable between 2000 and 2003. As of 2003, 69.7 percent of women over 40 had a mammogram in the last two years, up from just 29 percent in 1987. And 79.2 percent had a pap test for cervical cancer, up from 73.7.

However, the Institute said, screening for colorectal cancer remains low. Just 43.4 percent of adults over 50 had an endoscopy as of 2003, though that was up from 27.3 percent in 1987.

People are doing slightly more to protect themselves from the sun with 60.6 percent of people 18 and over saying they had taken steps to prevent sun exposure, compared with 53.6 percent in 1992.

Spending on cancer treatment continues to rise along with total health care spending.

And the report noted that blacks and people with low socio-economic status have the highest rates of both new cancers and cancer deaths.