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New Cancer Society Report a Mixed Bag

Survival rates up, but prevention still ignored by many

FRIDAY, Jan. 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Despite increases in the rates of some cancers, more people are surviving the disease than ever before, according to new figures from the American Cancer Society.

The good news is that the five-year survival rate for all cancers is 62 percent, up 2 percent from last year.

The bad news is twofold: Some types of cancer, particularly colorectal and breast cancer, are on the rise. Also, many people still aren't heeding the prevention message.

Almost 200,000 people will die this year from cancers caused by tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption -- 9,000 more than last year. And about a third of all cancer deaths this year, like last year, will be related to a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating and obesity, finds the ACS report, Cancer Facts and Figures 2002.

"We're making gradual progress against cancer, but we have a very long way to go," says one of the report's authors, Dr. Michael Thun, head of epidemiological research for the society.

The ACS predicts that 1,284,900 people will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year, just over a 1 percent increase from last year. Thun says this rise is due to three factors -- a growing population, an aging population, and the rise of incidence in some cancers that may be largely a factor of increased screening.

Deaths from cancer will rise slightly to 555,500 this year from 553,400 last year. Cancer still remains the second-biggest killer behind cardiovascular disease, accounting for one in every four deaths in the United States and claiming approximately 1,522 lives a day.

Lung cancer remains the deadliest cancer and is expected kill 154,900 people in 2002, a 1.6 percent decline from last year. Most of these deaths are the result of tobacco use, and the ACS says that tobacco use is responsible for one in five deaths in America.

Half of all smokers will die from a smoking-related disease, according to the report.

"Lung cancer is a direct consequence of cigarette smoking," says Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist at New York University Medical Center.

Yet 47 million Americans still smoke, says the cancer group. Thun says one of the greatest opportunities for preventing cancer deaths is in tobacco control. But the ACS found that 14 states spend less than $1 per person on tobacco control measures, he adds.

Colorectal cancer will be responsible for just over 56,000 deaths, a tiny decrease from 2001. About 148,300 new cases of the disease are expected to be diagnosed in 2002 -- a jump of almost 10 percent over last year, largely because of more screening.

Some 203,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are predicted, up almost 6 percent from last year. Around 40,000 deaths will occur from breast cancer, which is down slightly from last year's number.

New prostate cancer cases are down to 189,000 this year, from 198,100 last year. Deaths from this cancer are expected to drop slightly, too.

Another important finding in the ACS report is that African-Americans are more at risk for developing and dying from cancer than any other racial group. The morality rate for blacks is 33 percent higher than it is for whites. On the brighter side, the report also found that death rates from cancer decreased among black men faster than for any other racial group between 1992 and 1998.

Thun says the higher cancer rates among black Americans are largely the result of poverty and lack of access to care.

"Clearly, the take-home message from this report is that prevention and early intervention are why the mortality rates keep coming down," says Pavlick.

What To Do

The bottom line is that many cancer deaths are preventable. If you smoke, try to quit. Don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Start exercising regularly and develop healthy eating habits.

The ACS recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and limiting the amount of red meat you eat, especially high-fat meat. It also recommends choosing whole grain foods over processed foods whenever possible.

Also, stay out of the sun when you can, and wear sunscreen when necessary to minimize your exposure to the sun's damaging rays.

If you'd like to read a copy of the report, visit the American Cancer Society. (To view the report, you'll need to download Adobe's free Acrobat viewer if your computer doesnt have it already.)

To learn more about your chances of getting cancer and to get personalized prevention tips, go to Your Cancer Risk, from the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention. For more information on cancer prevention, go to the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: Interviews with Michael Thun, M.D., head, epidemiological research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia; Anna Pavlick, oncologist and assistant professor of medicine, New York University School of Medicine and Medical Center; Cancer Facts and Figures 2002; American Cancer Society
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