Rate of new U.S. cancer cases drops for first time

Tue Nov 25, 2008 5:08pm EST
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cancer rates have dropped for the first time in the United States and previous declines in cancer deaths are accelerating, a report released on Tuesday showed as cancer-fighting efforts produced solid results.

Regular screening for breast and colorectal cancer, declining smoking rates and improved treatments helped lead to the improvements described in a comprehensive study of cancer in the United States by government and private health experts.

"This decline is seen in blacks, it's seen in whites, it's seen in Hispanics, it's seen in all Americans," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said in a telephone interview.

However, cancer remains the No. 2 killer of Americans, with more than half a million deaths annually, topped only by heart disease. And the report detailed worrisome regional differences in lung cancer trends tied closely to whether or not individual states are taking important steps to reduce smoking.

Overall U.S. cancer death rates began falling in 1991 and these declines are getting steeper this decade, Brawley noted.

"But the real news here is that this is first time that we've got declines in incidence (the rate of new cases per year). We've never had incidence go down since we've been keeping records starting in the 1930s," Brawley said.

The rate of new cancer cases from 2001 to 2005 declined among men by 1.8 percent per year. New cases among women fell by 0.6 percent per year from 1998 to 2005.

While overall cancer death rates decreased by 1.5 percent per year from 1993 to 2001 among men, they declined by 2 percent per year from 2001 to 2005. Among women, cancer death rates fell by 0.8 percent per year from 1994 to 2002 and by a much steeper 1.6 percent per year from 2002 to 2005.   Continued...

<p>After three operations and four rounds of chemotherapy at Georgetown University Hospital, cancer patient Deborah Charles shows off her breast cancer survivor bracelet during a hospital appointment in Washington May 23, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Bourg</p>