Progress shown in death rates from four leading cancers

November 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

Death rates from the four most common cancers continued to decline in the late 1990s, according the CDC.

Death rates from the four most common cancers – lung, breast, prostate and colorectal – continued to decline in the late 1990s, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2000" examined recent patterns of cancer among whites, African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics from 1992 through 2000. For all cancers combined, the death rate began to stabilize in the late 1990s, showing neither an increase nor a decrease, while the incidence rate (newly diagnosed cases) began to stabilize in the middle of the decade.

Cancer incidence rates for all types of cancers combined increased from the mid-1970s through 1992, declined from 1992 to 1995, and then stabilized from 1995 to 2000. In this most recent time period, an increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men was offset by a long-term decrease in lung cancer in men.

Overall death rates increased through 1990, stabilized through 1994, and declined from 1994 through 1998 before becoming stable again from 1998 through 2000. There were continuing small declines in death rates for men, but death rates for women have been stable through the late 1990s.

Lung, breast, prostate, colorectal cancers

The death rate from lung cancer, the leading cancer killer, continues to decrease among white and black men, while the rate of increase has slowed among women, reflecting reductions in tobacco smoking.

Death rates from breast cancer continue to fall despite a gradual, long-term increase in the rate of new diagnoses. Declining breast cancer death rates and rising breast cancer incidence rates during the 1990s have been attributed, in part, to increased use of mammography screening. The report noted that higher rates of late-stage disease in some population groups and geographic areas may reflect delayed access to care, often among women who lack health insurance and recent immigrants.

Prostate cancer death rates have been declining since 1994, while incidence rates have been rising since 1995, with a 3.0% per-year increase in white men and a 2.3% per-year increase in black men. Clarification of the risks and benefits of prostate specific antigen screening, including potential impact on mortality, awaits the conclusion of two randomized clinical trials now in progress.

Colorectal cancer death rates have also been declining for both whites and blacks. Rates began declining in the 1970s, with steeper declines beginning in the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, colorectal cancer incidence rates stabilized beginning in 1996 for all men and women.

Representatives at the National Institutes of Health said they were encouraged by the declines. "Biomedical research has dramatically enhanced our understanding of cancer and given us more effective strategies for cancer control," said Andrew C. von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. "These declines in death rates from four leading cancers are the dividends of those advances." PR

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