As Science Unlocks Secrets, Cancer Rates Fall
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases on the planet, and the second leading cause of death in the United States. But medical science is slowly conquering cancer, according to an assessment of cancer trends produced by the U.S. National Cancer Institute in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. Death rates and diagnosis rates from all cancers combined are declining significantly, both for men and women overall, and for most racial and ethnic populations within the United States, the report found.

New diagnoses for all types of cancer combined decreased an average of almost 1 percent a year from 1999 to 2006, and deaths attributed to cancer decreased 1.6 percent a year from 2001 to 2006, according to the report, an annual evaluation released each December. Doctors predict that the rates will keep falling because research has begun unlocking the secrets of how different cancers begin and develop. "We're beginning to understand that each cancer has an individual pathway to development," said Dr. Alan G. Thorson, president of the American Cancer Society, a clinical professor of surgery and director of colon and rectal surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. "We know now how to look at cancer, find its source and go for that source, which makes all the difference in the world."

The decrease in cancer incidence and deaths has been driven mainly by advances in detecting and treating the major types of cancer in men and women, according to the report. Incidence and death rates are declining for lung, prostate and colorectal cancer in men, and for breast and colorectal cancer in women, the report said. Also, increases in the other major cancer for women, lung cancer, have tapered off, with rates remaining stable since 2003. There's no single explanation for the decrease in these major cancers, doctors said. Rather, the decreases are chalked up to effective detection and treatment tools designed for each form of cancer. For example, public tobacco policy has been crucial in reducing lung cancer rates in men and leveling them out for women, said Dr. Brenda Edwards, associate director of the Surveillance Research Program at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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