Cancer Death Rates Have Declined But Not Incidence

Cancer facts: survival rates improve

Cancer death rates have been declining steadily since the 1950s, according to a new report in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. More good news is that the most significant declines have been in younger people.

The significant declines in cancer death rates are attributed to vigorous prevention efforts, early detection, and improved means of treatment, according to the study’s lead author, research scientist Dr. Eric Kort. Although cancer death rates have been declining across all age groups, cancer deaths among people age 35 to 45 have declined by more than 25 percent per decade.

Now for the not-so-good news: incidence rates for some cancers have been increasing, according to an annual report by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and other scientific organizations released in late 2008. (“Incidence” is the proportion of people who are diagnosed with a disease each year.) Among males, the incidence of cancers of the liver, esophagus, and kidney have been increasing, as have those for melanoma and myeloma. Among women, incidence rates are increasing for cancers of the lung, thyroid, pancreas, brain and nervous system, bladder and kidney, and for melanoma.


There is some encouraging news about cancer incidence: A visit to the American Cancer Society website shows that cancer incidence has been declining in a few types of cancer. For example, after increasing for more than two decades, the incidence rates for female breast cancer decreased by 2.2 percent per year from 1999 to 2005. The incidence rate for ovarian cancer has also been slowing declining over the past 20 years, and prostate cancer has shown a 4.4 percent decline yearly from 2001 to 2005.

Now here is a confusing point: cancer death rates can decline even as the number of cancer deaths rises. Look at it this way. If one hundred years ago a certain type of cancer used to kill 20 people per 100,000 in the age group 55 to 65, and today the same cancer kills only 10 people per 100,000, that cancer is still killing more people today than it did one hundred years ago simply because we have a much larger number of 55-to-65-year-old people who are at risk of dying from that cancer.

The bottom line is, although the latest report about the decline in cancer death rates is good news, cancer incidence rates are not that encouraging. Cancer is still a killer, and the best way to avoid this killer appears to be timely cancer screenings, good nutritional habits, regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, and stress reduction. These measures could really reduce both cancer death rates and cancer incidence rates.

American Cancer Society
Medical News Today 8/13/09
Time 8/13/09
US News & World Report 8/13/09
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