Cancer Deaths Decrease for First Time in 70 Years
The number of cancer deaths in the U.S. decreased slightly in 2003 compared with the previous year, for the first time since 1930, according to the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts and Figures" report released Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/9).
For the report, ACS researchers analyzed death certificate information compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, according to the New York Daily News (Shin, New York Daily News, 2/9). Researchers found that there were 556,902 cancer deaths in 2003, down 369 from 2002.
Although the cancer death rate had been declining by slightly less than 1% since 1991, the actual number of deaths continued to rise because of the growing and aging population, the New York Times reports. In 2003, the number of cancer deaths increased by 409 among women compared with 2002 and decreased by 778 among men.
According to ACS, the overall decrease can be attributed to a decline in smoking as well as improved detection and treatment of breast, colorectal and prostate cancers (Grady, New York Times, 2/9). Death rates for the four most common cancers -- lung, breast, colorectal and prostate -- have declined.
Together, the four cancers account for 51% of all U.S. cancer deaths (Stobbe, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/9).
According to Michael Thun, scientific director of ACS, the biggest contributor to the decline is the reduction in tobacco use, which accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths. ACS predicts the downward trend will continue and projects a substantially larger decrease this year, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Because cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., causing about one in four, a continued decline could have substantial economic benefits. In 2005, medical costs for cancer totaled $74 billion, while lost productivity and other effects cost about $136 billion, according to NIH (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 2/9).
Additional ACS findings include:
- About 10 million U.S. residents have survived or currently have cancer;
- About 5% to 10% of all cancers are strongly hereditary, while about 6% are caused by pollutants;
- Slightly fewer than one in two men and slightly more than one in three women have a risk of developing of developing cancer; and
- About 76% of cancers are diagnosed in people 55 and older (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/9).
ACS CEO John Seffrin said the results "mark a remarkable turn in our decades-long fight to eliminate cancer as a major health threat," adding, "For the first time, the advances we have made in prevention, early detection and treatment are outpacing even the population factors that ... obscured that success" (Los Angeles Times, 2/9).
Thun said, "Even though it's a small number, it's a notable milestone," adding, "The decrease from 2002 to 2003 means that the decline in death rates had become sufficiently large that it was bigger than the aging and growth of the population."
Elizabeth Holly, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco, said, "It's quite good we've made some progress in our advances against cancer, but what it really is reflecting, fortunately, is a change in personal smoking habits and early detection and treatment in prostate, colorectal and breast cancer." Holly added, "We still have some real tragedies and very substantial national failures" (New York Times, 2/9).
Although some predict that the large, aging population of baby boomers could again raise the number of cancer deaths, ACS researchers maintain that cancer deaths among boomers will be offset by treatment developments, in addition to a decline in smoking (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/9). Some cancer specialists emphasized the importance of continued research.
Maurie Markman, vice president of clinical research at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said, "From my perspective, what could have the greatest impact are budget cuts -- cuts in cancer research and Medicare funding that President Bush is calling for. They could alter this good news" (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 2/9).