By Jay Miller, Cancer diagnoses and deaths continued to decline in the U.S., according to the latest available data,
helped by efforts to reduce risk, provide early detection and develop therapies.
The report, from a group of cancer and health organizations including the National Cancer Institute, trumpets the successes of improved screening and comes amid calls for less and later screening for breast and cervical cancers. A federally funded task force created an uproar last month when it said women could wait until they are older to begin routine mammograms and have them less often, a call echoed by a similar pronouncement on cervical-cancer screening from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Driving the drops in cancer diagnoses and deaths are declines for the three most common cancers in men—lung, prostate and colorectal—and for two of the three leading cancers in women—breast and colorectal, according to researchers from the group of health organizations.
New diagnoses for all types of cancer combined in the U.S. fell on average almost 1% per year from 1999 to 2006. Cancer deaths decreased 1.6% a year from 2001 to 2006. Overall cancer rates continue to be higher for men than for women, but men experienced the greatest declines in new cases and deaths. “Progress has been more limited for certain types of cancer, including many cancers that are currently less amenable to screening, such as cancer of esophagus, liver and pancreas,” said Betsy Kohler, executive director of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
Among racial and ethnic groups, cancer death rates were highest in black men and women and lowest in Asian/Pacific Islander men and women.
For women, the three leading causes of cancer death were lung, breast and colorectal for all racial/ethnic groups except Hispanics. For them, breast cancer ranked first. Unlike males overall, liver cancer was a bigger killer in Asian/Pacific Islanders than prostate cancer.
The researchers also touted progress against colorectal cancer. In the last quarter of the 20th century, colorectal cancer incidence fell 22%, due equally to wider screening and risk reductions such as improved diets. The groups said accelerated efforts could reduce mortality by another half from 2000 to 2020.
“This report shows that we have begun to make progress reducing colorectal cancer. Yet, colorectal cancer still kills more people than any other cancer except lung cancer,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has a program that provides colorectal cancer screening services to low-income men and women from the ages of 50 to 64.
“Increases in colorectal cancer screening have been achieved through a variety of efforts, including education of the public and medical community and advocacy for health insurance coverage of the full range of colorectal cancer screening tests,” said American Cancer Society Chief Executive John R. Seffrin.