Record drop in deaths from cancer

WASHINGTON -- Good news on the cancer front: Death rates are dropping faster than ever, thanks to progress against colorectal cancer.

A turning point came in 2002, scientists conclude today in the annual Report to the Nation on cancer. From 2002 to 2004, death rates dropped by an average of 2.1 percent a year.

That may not sound like much, but from 1993 to 2001, deaths rates dropped on average 1.1 percent a year.

Two victories against colorectal cancer made the difference.

While it remains the nation's No. 2 cancer kil-ler, deaths are dropping faster for colorectal cancer than any other malignancy -- by almost 5 percent a year among men and 4.5 percent in women.

One reason is that it's striking fewer people, the report found. New diagnoses are down roughly 2.5 percent a year for men and women, thanks to screening tests that can spot precancerous polyps in time to remove them and thus prevent cancer from forming.

Still, only about half the people who need colorectal cancer screening -- everyone older than 50 -- gets checked.

"If we're seeing such great impact even at 50 percent screening rates, we think it could be much greater if we could get more of the population tested," said Dr. Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society, who co-wrote the report with government scientists.

The other gain is the result of new treatments credited with doubling survival times for advanced patients.

"I can tell you the offices of gastrointestinal oncologists around the country, and indeed around the world, are busier than ever because our patients are doing better," he said.

Among the report's other findings:

  • Mortality is improving faster among men, with annual deaths down 2.6 percent versus 1.8 percent in women.
  • Overall, the rate of new diagnoses is falling about one-half a percent a year.
  • New breast cancer diagnoses are dropping about 3.5 percent a year.

The annual report is a collaboration of the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

On the Net:

www.cancer.gov; www.modbee.com/24hour/healthscience.