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New Report Highlights Cancer Trends in the U.S. (dateline December 3, 2003)

An annual report on cancer statistics in the United States finds that deaths from the four most common cancers continue to decline. Less people died from lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers in the late 1990s, and deaths from all cancers combined stabilized at this time as well. The report, published by federal cancer experts in early September 2003, suggests that further declines in cancer are possible with strong federal, state, local, and private partnerships to increase cancer screening programs to all population groups.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2000, is collaboration of 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. The report updates statistics on lung, female breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers and highlights the uses of selected surveillance data to aid in the development of state-based cancer control plans, according to the published report in the September 3, 2003 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The report finds that rates for all types of cancers combined in the United States increased from the mid-1970s through 1992, declined from 1992 to 1995, and then stabilized from 1995 to 2000. In the late 1990s, researchers found an increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men but a decrease in lung cancer among men offset the overall cancer trend.

With respect to deaths from cancer in the U.S., overall deaths increased through 1990, stabilized through 1994, and then declined from 1994 through 1998. After 1998, deaths from cancer remained stable through 2000 (with small declines in deaths among men during this time).

The decrease in lung cancer reveals that anti-smoking campaigns may be working. "The steep decline in lung cancer rates in men and the recent slowing of an increase in rates in women demonstrate that we can move the trend in the number one cancer killer in the right direction," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS), in an NCI news release. "Further progress will require rigorous application of strategies that we know are effective in reducing tobacco use."

Deaths from breast cancer fell during the 1990s despite a period of increased diagnoses. One possible explanation for the increased number of breast cancer cases is the significant improvement and widespread use of screening mammography. Mammography helps detect breast cancer in its early stages when the chances for successful treatment and survival are the greatest. The report also suggests that the higher rates of late-stage breast cancer diagnoses in some segments of the population may be due to delayed access to care. This can be particularly common among women without health insurance and recent immigrants.

Other highlights from the report include the following

  • Deaths from prostate cancer have decreased since 1994 despite an increase in diagnoses since 1995;
  • Deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased since the 1970s, while the number of cases have stabilized since 1996 among men and women;
  • Cancer rates differed considerably among different ethnic groups in the U.S. in the 1990s, though deaths from the most common cancers declined overall.

In many cases, the earlier cancer is detected, the greater the chances it can be successfully treated. Regular physical examinations and cancer screening exams can increase the chances of detecting cancer at an early stage.

Additional Resources and References

  • The "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2000, Featuring the Uses of Surveillance Data for Cancer Prevention and Control" is published in the September 3, 2003 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,
  • The September 2, 2003 National Cancer Institute news release, "Progress Shown in Death Rates From Four Leading Cancers: Decline in Overall Mortality Has Slowed," is available at