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New Cancer Statistics: Most Cancer Rates Declined, Some Rose

Cancer progression

The good news from the new annual report, “Cancer Statistics 2012,” is promising: more than 1 million cancer deaths have been avoided over the past two decades, according to researchers in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The bad news: some cancer rates are on the rise, and experts are not certain why, although lifestyle is a risk factor.

Cancer’s changing face revealed in new statistics

Given that 25% of deaths in the United States are due to cancer, it is difficult to find someone whose life has not been affected in some way by the disease, whether it’s personal experience with the disease or with a family member or friend. Hearing the words “you have cancer” is among the most frightening and life-changing event that can happen to someone.

But the face of cancer is changing, and some of it is positive. In this latest report, along with “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012” from the American Cancer Society, the authors present two general scenarios:

  • Where we’ve been: an overview of current cancer statistics through 2008
  • Where we’re going: estimated number of new cancer cases and deaths in 2012

The data in the reports are extensive and comprehensive, including state-by-state information and in depth statistics on individual types of cancer. However, here are some highlights.

Cancer statistics: where we’ve been

  • Deaths rates for the most common types of cancer (breast, colon, lung, and prostate) have declined steadily over the past 20 years
  • Both deaths and total incidence rates have been rising for less common cancers, including kidney, liver, pancreatic, and thyroid cancers and some throat cancers
  • Because of a decline in overall cancer death rates since 1990, the authors estimate that about 1,024,400 deaths from cancer were avoided over the past 2 decades
  • From 1990 to 2008, the overall death rates declined by about 23% in adult males and by about 15% in adult females
  • The largest decline in cancer death rates occurred in African-American men
  • Despite an overall drop in cancer deaths, blacks did not fare as well as whites: African American men and women have a poorer chance of survival after cancer is diagnosed, and the 5-year relative survival is lower among blacks for every stage and nearly every type of cancer.
  • Black men have a 15% higher incidence of new cancer and a 33% higher rate of death from compared with white men
  • Black women fare somewhat better: they have a 6% lower incidence of new cancer but still a 16% higher death rate than white women
  • Among children, overall incidence rate for cancer aged 14 years and younger increased slightly by 0.5% per year from 2004 to 2008
  • Death from cancer among children has declined by more than 50% over the past 3 decades
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers among children improved from 58% for children diagnosed between 1975 and 1997 to 83% for those diagnosed between 2001 and 2007

Cancer statistics: where we’re going

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The authors presented the following estimates for 2012 in the United States:

  • A total of 1,638,910 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. This figure does not include carcinoma in situ for any type of cancer except urinary bladder cancer, nor does it include basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. (Cancer in situ is cancer that involves only the area where the cancer originated and has not spread; i.e., an early-stage tumor.) An estimated 63,300 cases of breast cancer in situ and 55,560 new cases of melanoma in situ are expected to be diagnosed
  • An estimated 577,190 people will die of cancer. The most common causes of cancer death have been lung/bronchus, and colorectal in both men and women, as well as prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
  • Lung cancer is expected to account for 26% of all female cancer deaths and 29% of all male cancer deaths
  • The two main cancer-causing factors are obesity and tobacco use. During 2012, one-third of cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use while one-third will be associated with obesity, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition

The information presented in “Cancer Statistics, 2012” offers hope but also warnings of rising rates among less common cancers. Interestingly, obesity is associated with higher rates of some of those cancers (e.g., esophageal, kidney, liver, pancreatic).

The data also highlight the major cancer-causing factors, all of which involve lifestyle changes. Thus people have some control over their chances of developing cancer, and that may be the take-home message from these cancer statistics.

Cancer Facts & Figures 2012
Siegel R, Naishadham D, Jemal A. Cancer statistics 2012. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians; published online 4 Jan 2012. DOI:10.3322/caac.20138

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons