Death rate down for four leading cancers

CHICAGO—A report co-authored by the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows death rates from the four most common cancers—lung, breast, prostate and colorectal—continued to decline in the late 1990s. During the same period, the death rate for all cancers combined stabilized, showing neither an increase nor a decrease.

The “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2000” also notes a growing difference in death rates for colorectal cancer and breast cancer in white and black populations. By 2000, death rates for these two cancers were substantially lower for whites than for blacks.

“These growing differences are an indication that African-American men and women may not be experiencing the same benefits from screening or treatment as their white counterparts,” said Jerome Hoeksema, M.D., president of the Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society, Illinois Division. “In order to successfully eradicate disparities among our various populations, the health care community must do a better job in disseminating information about prevention, screening and treatment services to all segments of our society,” he said.

The report on the status of cancer in the United States is issued jointly by the ACS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).

The report concludes that further reductions in cancer can be achieved but will require strong federal, state, local and private partnerships to apply evidence-based cancer control measures—such as screening for colorectal cancer that reach all segments of the population.

In Illinois, insurance coverage for colorectal cancer examinations, as recommended by Society guidelines, already is the law. Gov. Rod Blagojevich in July signed the Society-sponsored legislation passed unanimously by the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation—Colorectal Cancer Screening Act—mandates that Illinoisans covered by health insurance plans have access to paid colorectal screenings, including colonoscopy, the current gold standard for early detection of colorectal cancer. This test offers the best opportunity for the diagnosis and removal of precancerous polyps.

Report highlights show:

n Colorectal cancer death rates have been declining for both whites and African-Americans. Rates began declining in the 1970s, with steeper declines beginning in the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, colorectal cancer incidence rates stabilized beginning in 1996 for all men and women.

n The death rate from lung cancer, the leading cancer killer of Americans, continues to decrease among white and African-American men, while the rate of increase has slowed among women, reflecting reductions in tobacco smoking.

n Death rates from breast cancer continue to fall despite a gradual, long-term increase in the rate of new diagnoses. Declining breast cancer death rates and rising breast cancer incidence rates during the 1990s have been attributed, in part, to increased use of mammography screening.

n Prostate cancer death rates have been declining since 1994, while incidence rates have been rising since 1995, with a 3.0 percent per year increase in white men and a 2.3 percent per year increase in black men.

The report includes incidence data from 34 statewide cancer registries that cover 68 percent of the U.S. population.

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering through research, education, advocacy and service. The Society’s Illinois Division has more than 120,000 volunteers and 250 staff members fighting cancer in the state. For cancer-related information 24 hours a day, call 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit the American Cancer Society Web site at

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