U.S. cancer death rates decline

July 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

New data for 1999 show that death rates for all cancers combined continued to decline in the United States.

New data for 1999 show that death rates for all cancers combined continued to decline in the United States. However, the number of cancer cases can be expected to increase because of the growth and aging of the population in coming decades, according to a report released in May by the National Cancer Institute.

"The continuing decline in the rate of cancer deaths once again affirms the progress we've made against cancer, but the report also highlights the need for an acceleration of research as the population of the United States ages," said NCI Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach.

Most common cancers

Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. During the most recent reporting period, it accounted for almost one-third of cancer deaths in men and about one-fourth of cancer deaths in women. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, followed by breast and prostate cancers.

"The good news in this report is the continuing fall in cancer death rates by slightly more than one percent per year between 1993 and 1999," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society. "Of special note is the continuing decline in death rates for the four most common cancers."

According to James S. Marks, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, "Another important issue in the report is that the incidence rate, or rate of new cancers, for all cancers combined was stable during most of the 1990s, after increasing during the 1970s through 1980s. These data highlight the need for the rapid, full application of all we know about prevention, screening and treatment of cancer."

Age is a risk

Because the U.S. population is both growing and aging, the authors focused on how, even if cancer rates remain constant, the number of people diagnosed with cancer will increase.

"If cancer rates follow current patterns, we anticipate a doubling from 1.3 million people in 2000 to 2.6 million people in 2050 diagnosed with cancer," said Holly L. Howe, executive director of the Springfield, IL-based North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

The authors posited a number of strategies for dealing with the future cancer burden. Special considerations in treating cancer in older people will need to be undertaken due to co-morbid conditions and physical limitations that haven't been studied fully in older age groups. The authors noted that increasing representation of older patients in clinical trials could help answer questions about how best to treat older people with cancer. PR

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