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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cancer Rates

CNN.Com reports on the increase number of cancer deaths in 2005 although the overall death rate from cancer continued to decline.  The story states,

U.S. cancer deaths rose by more than 5,000 in 2005, a somewhat disappointing reversal of a two-year downward trend, the American Cancer Society said in a report issued Wednesday.

The group counted 559,312 people who died from cancer.

The cancer death rate among the overall population continued to fall, but only slightly, after a couple of years of more dramatic decline.  In 2005, there were just under 184 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, down from nearly 186 the previous year. Experts said it wasn't surprising that the rate would stabilize. The cancer death rate has been dropping since the early 1990s, and early in this decade was declining by about 1 percent a year. The actual number of cancer deaths kept rising, however, because of the growing population. . . .

But now the death rate decline is back to 1 percent. And the 2005 numbers show annual cancer deaths are no longer falling, but are up more than 5,400 since 2004. "The declining rate was no longer great enough to overcome the increase in population," said Elizabeth Ward, a co-author of the cancer society report.  Officials with the organization say they don't know why the decline in the death rate eased. . . .

It may be that cancer screenings are not having as big an effect as they were a few years ago, said Dr. Peter Ravdin, a research professor in biostatistics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  One possible example: In 2004, the largest drop in deaths among the major cancers was in colorectal cancer. Experts gave much of the credit to colonoscopy screenings that detect polyps and allow doctors to remove them before they turn cancerous. They also mentioned "the Katie Couric effect" -- a jump in colonoscopy rates after the "Today" show host had the exam on national television in 2000.  In the new report, the colorectal cancer death rate decreased by about 3 percent from 2004 to 2005, after plunging 6 percent from 2003 to 2004. . . .

Cancer society officials have also voiced concern that cancer deaths may increase as Americans lose health insurance coverage and get fewer screenings.

The good news is the cancer rate is still declining, and that since the early 1990s is down more than 18 percent for men and more than 10 percent for women. Those reductions translate to more than half a million cancer deaths avoided, according to the cancer society. Experts attribute the success to declines in smoking and to earlier detection and more effective treatment of tumors.

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