Rates for New Cancers Go Down for the First Time

Led by dropping rates of lung, breast, and colorectal cancer, the incidence rate of all new cancers in the United States is falling for the first time.  While overall cancer death rates have been decreasing since the early 1990’s, this is the first time that rates of new cancer diagnoses are also declining.

In the Annual Report to the Nation, the rate of newly diagnosed cancer fell 1.7 percent per year between 2001 and 2005.  Death rates for all cancers combined fell 1.8 percent annually during the same time period.

Both incidence of new colorectal cancers and colorectal cancer death rates continued to decline with the new report.  Between 1998 and 2005, incidence rates for men fell 3 percent annually while rates for women declined 2.4 percent.  Death rates fell 4.3 percent between 2002 and 2005 for both sexes.

The Annual Report to the Nation is yearly collaboration among the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR). It provides updated information on cancer trends in the United States.

Colorectal cancer incidence rates declined for all races for both men and women.  Overall, 61 of every 100,000 men and 45 in 100,000 women were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer in the United States.  Twenty-three men and 16 women per 100,000 Americans died from the disease.

The Report believes that the growing reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer may be associated with increased screenings. In 1987 a little over 1 in every 4 Americans over age 50 (27 percent) were screened for colorectal cancer.  By 2005 half (50 percent) reported having been screened for the disease.  While use of fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) fell from 17 percent to 12 percent between 2000 and 2005, colonoscopy screening increased from 20 percent to 39 percent.

Commenting on the reduced rates for both incidence and mortality for colorectal cancer, John L. Petrini, MD, FASGE, president of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy said,

This report demonstrates the importance of colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50., Individuals with other risk factors, including a family history of colon cancer or polyps, and African Americans, may need screening at an earlier age. This disease is largely preventable and curable when diagnosed in its early stages. While we are encouraged by this excellent news, far too few people are getting screened. ASGE recommends colonoscopy screening beginning at age 50 and repeating every 10 years after a normal exam. Colonoscopy plays a very important role in colorectal cancer screening and prevention because it is the only method that allows for the detection and removal of precancerous polyps during the same exam and before the polyps turn into cancer.

In addition to reporting cancer incidence and death rates and trends, the Annual Report this year looked at lung cancer across states and among sex and age groups.  They found a wide difference in lung cancer rates between states where smoking is more common and states with lower smoking prevalence.  Lung cancer rates among women have just begun to level off, driven by older women who began smoking after World War II and lower “quit rates” among older women.

Concluding, Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., from the American Cancer Society, and his colleagues wrote,

Although the decrease in overall cancer incidence and death rates is encouraging, large state and regional differences in lung cancer trends among women underscore the need to maintain and strengthen many state tobacco control programs.

SOURCE: Jemal et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 100, Number 23, December 3, 2008.

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