U.S. cancer death rates dip

Overall cancer death rates continued to decline in the U.S. among both men and women, among all major racial and ethnic groups and for most common cancer sites, including lung, colon and rectum, female breast and prostate, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2009, published online Jan. 7 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

However, the report also showed that death rates continued to increase from 2000 to 2009 for melanoma of the skin (among men only) and for cancers of the liver, pancreas and uterus. A special section on human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers showed increasing incidence rates for HPV-associated oropharyngeal and anal cancers and that vaccination coverage levels in the U.S. during 2008 and 2010 remained low among adolescent girls.

The decline in overall cancer death rates continues a trend that began in the early 1990s. From 2000 through 2009, cancer death rates decreased by 1.8 percent per year among men and by 1.4 percent per year among women. Death rates among children up to 14 years of age also continued to decrease by 1.8 percent per year.

During 2000 through 2009, death rates among men decreased for 10 of the 17 most common cancers (lung, prostate, colon and rectum, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, stomach, myeloma, oral cavity and pharynx and larynx) and increased for melanoma of the skin and cancers of the pancreas and liver. During the same 10-year period, death rates among women decreased for 15 of the 18 most common cancers (lung, breast, colon and rectum, ovary, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, brain and other nervous system, myeloma, kidney, stomach, cervix, bladder, esophagus, oral cavity and pharynx and gallbladder) and increased for cancers of the pancreas, liver and uterus.

Between 2000 and 2009, overall cancer incidence rates decreased by 0.6 percent per year among men, were stable among women, and increased by 0.6 percent per year among children (ages 0 to 14 years). During that time period, incidence rates among men decreased for five of the 17 most common cancers (prostate, lung, colon and rectum, stomach and larynx) and increased for six others (kidney, pancreas, liver, thyroid, melanoma of the skin and myeloma). Among women, incidence rates decreased for seven of the 18 most common cancers (lung, colon and rectum, bladder, cervix, oral cavity and pharynx, ovary and stomach), and increased for seven others (thyroid, melanoma of the skin, kidney, pancreas, leukemia, liver and uterus). Incidence rates were stable for the other top 17 cancers, including breast cancer in women and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in men and women.

“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer,” John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. “The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”