Fewer Americans Felled by Cancer

But number of new cases stayed same from 1975 to 2003, report says

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer Americans are dying from cancer, even while the rate of diagnosis remains about the same.

"The death rate continues to drop," confirmed Ahmedin Jemal, program director of cancer occurrence at the American Cancer Society. "We're making progress because of a reduction in tobacco consumption, improved treatment, and improved detection."

And overall, Latino immigrants have lower rates of cancer than whites or blacks, although some of this good news is offset by other factors.

"Latinos in the U.S. have lower cancer incidence and death rates," Jemal said. "But they have a higher rate of cancers related to infection like stomach, liver and cervical cancers. They are also more likely to be diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease for some of the more common cancers, such as breast and lung."

Jemal is co-author of this year's Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2003, Featuring Cancer among U.S. Hispanic/Latino Populations, which is being published in the Oct. 15 issue of Cancer.

The report, which appears annually, is a joint effort from the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

This year's report includes the first comprehensive compilation of cancer information for U.S. Latinos.

Data on new cancer diagnoses came from state and regional population-based cancer registries, and data on cancer deaths came from the CDC's National Vital Statistics System.

The drop in death rates persisted through 2003, continuing a trend first reported in 1998. This has been the first sustained decline in cancer death rates in the United States since the 1930s. Men experienced greater declines (1.6 percent per year from 1993 through 2003) than women (0.8 percent per year from 1992 through 2003).

Among the report's other findings.

  • Mortality rates dropped for 11 of the 15 most common cancers in men and for 10 of the 15 most common cancers in women.
  • Overall cancer incidence rates were stable for men from 1995 through 2003, while rates for women increased from 1979 through 2003. Overall, however, the rates were stable from 1992 through 2003.
  • The incidence rate for female breast cancer stabilized from 2001 through 2003, ending a period of increases that had begun in the 1980s. Female lung cancer incidence rates experienced a small rise from 1991 through 2003, a slower rate of increase than in the past.
  • For women, incidence rates decreased for colon and rectum, uterus, ovarian, stomach, cervical and oral cancers.
  • Among men, incidence rates have decreased for colon and rectum, stomach, lung and oral cancers. They increased for prostate and for myeloma, leukemia, and cancers of the liver, kidney and esophagus.
  • From 1999 to 2003, Latinos had lower incidence rates than non-Hispanic whites for most cancers. For lung, colon and rectum, prostate, female breast and cervical cancer, however, they were more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. "What is most disturbing, and continues to be disturbing, is the high rate of cervical cancer," said Jane L. Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health in Washington, D.C. "There's no reason in a day when we have Pap tests why women should be getting this."
  • Latinos were also more likely to have cancers rising from infection, including cervical, stomach and liver cancers.

The data on Latinos may seem counterintuitive.

It's not clear why the overall rates are lower for Latinos, Delgado said. "We can't look at things as simply as we have in the past. As we move to more personalized medicine, we have to look at each person's strengths and areas where they need improvement."

Until that day comes, however, the challenge is in addressing the needs of different groups.

"Twenty percent of the U.S. population still smokes and over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, so we still have to make sure there is prevention and early detection," Jemal said. "Colorectal cancer is a very good example. If you catch colorectal cancer, survival is 90 percent but only 50 percent of men and women who are 50 and older get screened. We still have a long way to go."

More information

Find the report at the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., program director, cancer occurrence, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Jane L. Delgado, Ph.D., president and CEO, National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Washington, D.C.; Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2003, Featuring Cancer among U.S. Hispanic/Latino Populations

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