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National Journal

National Journal


Death rates from cancer continue a slow but steady march downward

in the United States, with a few exceptions, the American Cancer Society reported on Wednesday. The group estimates that the reduction translates to a million lives saved since 1990.

The American Cancer Society’s annual report shows that between 2004 and 2008, the incidence of cancer fell by just over half a percent in men while it was stable in women. Death rates fell by 1.8 percent a year in men and 1.6 percent every year in women. The reduction in women lags a little because women started to quit smoking later than men did.

Cancer will be diagnosed in 1.64 million Americans this year and it will kill 577,190, the group projects.

Death rates continue to decline for all four major cancer sites – the lung; colon and rectum; breast; and prostate, the group said. Lung cancer – almost all of it due to smoking —  accounted for 40 percent of the total decline in men. Declines in breast cancer accounted for 34 percent of the total drop in cancer rates for women.

Rates for some cancers are rising, including tumors of the pancreas, liver, thyroid, and kidney; as well as melanoma and  head and neck cancer  — especially head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. Some of the cancers are linked with obesity, which is on the rise, but better early detection could account for some of the increases as well, the group said.

There is now a vaccine against HPV, which is also the main cause of cervical cancer, but it may be a few years before any decrease in cancer rates is seen from vaccination.

Some groups have a markedly higher risk of cancer. African-American men have a 15 percent higher rate of cancer diagnoses than men of other races and a 33 percent higher death rate than white men. Black women have a 6 percent lower incidence rate but a 16 percent higher cancer-death rate than white women.