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Cancer Death Rates Drop 20 Percent Since 1991

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Good news in the fight against cancer: not only are fewer people being diagnosed with the disease, more are surviving once they get it.

Mike Schuh reports.

More than a half a million people are predicted to die this year in America from all forms of cancer. Though the overall number is staggering, the predicted deaths are showing a decrease from a high reached in 1991.

Twice a week at Franklin Square Hospital's cancer center, Dr. Stephen Noga checks in on an amazing patient.

Drop-by-drop, a string of new medicines has kept Juanita Massey alive.

"I don't know how long I have," said Massey, living with cancer. "The disease says I shouldn't be sitting here talking to you. That's what the prognosis was."

Her bone cancer was so bad that 18 years ago, they told her to get her affairs in order and that she had six weeks to live.

"My husband and I took my life insurance because they signed for it. I was going to die. We went to every amusement park, including the big one in Florida," Massey said.

But better drugs and her faith intervened.

"Even though I have survived, and that's a story in itself, the everyday is 'What are you going to do? How are you going to prepare for death and live?'" Massey said.

Massey's doctor heads up Medstar Health Cancer Network.

"For the first time actually in 20 years we can actually say the death rate from cancer is down. It's down by 20 percent," Noga said.

It's predicted that nearly 600,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year as decades of hard work is paying off.

"Really this started in the 60s with smoking cessation, and we're now finally seeing the benefits of that," Noga said.

Better education, screening and treatment allow for Massey 18 years after she thought she'd die to be able to say that this day and every day is a good day.

"Juanita has as long as God says I have," she said.

The American Cancer Society says the three most commonly diagnosed cancers are: breast,  lung and colorectal.

Overall deaths are down, but the incidence of cancer is higher for melanoma, and cancers of the liver, thyroid and pancreas.

The Cancer Society predicts there will be 1,660,290 new cases of cancer in 2013.

To read the full report from the American Cancer Society, click here.

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