ACS: Early detection contributes to declining U.S. cancer death rate

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U.S. cancer death rates are falling steadily, driven in large part by better prevention, increased use of early detection practices and improved treatments for cancer, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The annual ACS cancer statistics report, "Cancer Facts & Figures 2009," and its companion article "Cancer Statistics, 2009," published in the society's CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, revealed that cancer death rates dropped 19.2 percent among men during 1990-2005 and 11.4 percent among women during 1991-2005.

Cancer incidence rates also decreased: 1.8 percent per year among men from 2001-2005 and 0.6 percent per year from 1998-2005 among women. John R. Seffrin, PhD, ACS CEO, said that while a drop of 1 or 2 percent per year may sound small, the percentage drop adds up to 650,000 cancer deaths avoided over 15 years.

Lung, prostate and colorectal cancer declining death rates accounted for nearly 80 of the decline among men, while decreases in breast and colorectal cancer made up 60 percent of the decrease among women. "Those numbers suggest early detection practices--using colonoscopy to catch colon cancer early, for example--are working, and also reflect improvements in treatment," according to the report.

ACS researchers estimated that there will be about $1.48 million new cancer cases and about 560,000 cancer deaths in 2009. For all cancers diagnosed from 1996-2004, the five-year relative survival rate is 66 percent, up from 50 percent in 1975-1977--an increase that directly reflects improvements in early detection and treatment.

African-American men have an 18 percent higher incidence rate and 36 percent higher cancer death rate compared with white men, according to the report. "African-American women are less likely than white women to get cancer, but when they do get it, they're more likely to die from it," the ACS reported.

ACS researchers also noted that lung cancer rates vary greatly regionally, reflecting differences in tobacco use among states. In contrast, rates for other cancers such as breast and prostate, tended to be similar across the country.

To read the report in its entirety, visit