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Cancer death rates drop 20 percent in 2 decades

The cancer death in the U.S. has dropped 20 percent from 1991 to 2009, according to the American Cancer Society's annual "Cancer Statistics" report.

Between 1990 and 1991 through 2009, men's cancer death rates decreased 24 percent and women's rates dropped 16 percent.

"In 2009, Americans had a 20 percent lower risk of death from cancer than they did in 1991, a milestone that shows we truly are creating more birthdays," John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. "But we must also recognize that not all demographic groups have benefitted equally from these gains, particularly those diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer, where earlier detection and better treatments are credited for the improving trends. We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged."

In the last five years of data tracked by the report -- 2005 to 2009 -- overall cancer rates went down 0.6 percent for men and stayed stable for women. Cancer death rates went down 1.8 percent for men and 1.5 percent for women during the same period. The declines in death rates dropped similar levels in 2001 and 2002.

Overall, it means 1.2 million people were spared from death from the disease, the report showed.

The data was published Jan.17 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Rates declined from 215.1 deaths per 100,000 cancers in 1991 to 173.1 per 100,000 in 2009. Death rates have fallen for four major types of cancer, including a 30 percent drop for colorectal, lung and breast cancers, in addition to a 40 percent for prostate cancers.

"More than a million people are alive. That is a huge number of folks," Dr. Cy Aaron Stein, chair of the department of medical oncology and therapeutics research at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calf., said to WebMD. "This is really wonderful, but we would like to see death rates go down to zero. There is no penicillin for cancer, but good decisions were made and they are bearing fruits now.


Still, there will be 1,660,290 new cancer cases and 580,350 cancer deaths projected to occur in the U.S. in 2013. Prostate, lung and bronchus, and colorectal cancers will make up half of the new diagnoses for men, with prostate cancer accounting for 28 percent of new diagnoses. For women, breast, lung and bronchus, and colorectal cancers will make up about half of the new cases. Breast cancer alone will account for about 29 percent of the new cancers.

In addition, melanoma of the skin and cancers of the thyroid and pancreas are increasing for both men and women.

Stein told WebMD that he is afraid that budget cuts and changes made to screening guidelines -- mammogramand prostate cancerscreening guidelines have changed in recent years -- may stall the progress. He's also worried that the obesity epidemic, which has been linked to several cancers including breast, colorectal and pancreatic cancers, may contribute to more cases.

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