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Report: Cancer Rates, Deaths Down Overall

Overall cancer rates are down in the last four years in almost every major demographic category according to a new joint report from national cancer and health groups.

Both the rate of new diagnoses for all cancers and the rate of death from all cancers were down in the most recent study period, from 2001 to 2006, according to the report released today by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR)

According to a press release, the drops were driven largely by declines in new cases and deaths from the three most common cancers in men (lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers) and for two of the three leading cancers in women (breast and colorectal cancer).

Cancer Q&A

New diagnoses for all types of cancer combined in the United States decreased an average of nearly 1 percent per year from 1999 to 2006 while cancer deaths fell 1.6 percent per year from 2001 to 2006. The declines were greater for men than for women, but men have higher overall cancer rates to begin with.

Doctors attribute the overall declines to public health campaigns advocating for lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and to better early detection of cancers. But the overall declines still represent a mix of cancers on the decline and cancers on the rise.

For men, the incidence of prostate, lung, oral cavity, stomach, brain, colon and rectal cancers was down, but new cases of kidney, liver, and esophageal cancer were up.

For women, breast, colorectal, uterine, ovarian, cervical and oral cavity cancers declined, but lung, thyroid, pancreatic, bladder, and kidney cancers were up.

The report focused particularly on colorectal cancer, the second biggest killer among men and women. Diagnoses of colorectal cancer are on the rise among men and women under 50, even though deaths are down.

That's attributable to lifestyle, said gastroenterologist Dr. Mark Pochapin, speaking with "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric. "People are overweight, they don't exercise, eat red meat, smoking, and I think we're forgetting how important those factors are in preventing disease, especially cancer."

There is some encouraging news. About 40 percent of people age 50 and over are getting screening colonoscopies. If that trend continues, the death rate will be cut by 36 percent by 2020.

"I think this is very good news, this report, because if 60 percent of people were to get screened, by 2020, half of all mortality from colorectal cancer would be prevented," Pochapin said. "That's thousands of people. You know, 150,000 people or so are diagnosed and really 50-plus thousand people die from this disease. So you're talking about so many people that could be affected and prevented from this deadly disease."