Cancer deaths continue to steadily decline, some attributed to screening efforts

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Incidence and death rates for all cancers combined continue to steadily decline, according to data released Wednesday in Cancer in the “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2006.” On average, new diagnoses for all types of cancer combined decreased almost one percent per year from 1999 to 2006. From 2001 to 2006, cancer deaths decreased 1.6 percent.

Most notably, incidence and death rates of colorectal cancer—one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country—dropped significantly in both men and women in recent years as a result of changes in risk factors, screening and treatment methods, according to the data. 

Deaths from prostate cancer fell by about 4 percent annually between 2001 and 2006 and deaths from breast cancer fell by almost 2 percent a year during the same period.

“It is encouraging to see that the nation’s investment in the fight against cancer continues to pay off through a steady reduction in the cancer burden, especially in colorectal cancer which takes such a huge toll in terms of human life and suffering,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“The report indicates that we are seeing positive results from screening efforts for [colorectal cancer], which is a very positive message for the public and their physicians,” Foti added. “At the same time, we need to be aware of the potential increases in cancer incidence that we could see in the future as a result of aging, obesity, diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and other risk factors.” 

The report indicated that despite progress against many cancers, incidence rates continue to rise among men for kidney/renal, liver and esophageal cancer, as well as for leukemia, myeloma and melanoma. For women, incidence of lung, thyroid, pancreatic, bladder and kidney cancers, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma and leukemia have all increased as well. 

“We’re witnessing the positive impact of the nation’s investment on cancer, and now we have the opportunity to tackle those cancers that have proven to be more intractable,” Foti said. “The report provides solid evidence that research does yield substantial benefits for public health, but it also emphasizes the need for more work to prevent, detect and treat cancer.”

The report is an annual collaboration between the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).