Rate of Cancer Diagnoses Declines for First Time Since 1971

December 3, 2008
Chris Cole

For the first time since the war on cancer was declared 37 years ago, the rate of new cancer diagnoses among Americans has begun to decline, according to a new report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For the first time since the war on cancer was declared 37 years ago, the rate of new cancer diagnoses among Americans has begun to decline, according to a new report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, joining the fall in death rates related to cancer that began in 1991. In large part due to increasing numbers of people who have decided to quit smoking, improved screening techniques, and advanced treatment, new cases of cancer dropped an average 0.8% per year from 2000-2005.

“This is evidence that a lot of the things we’ve been saying about cancer prevention and control since the 1970s are working,” said Otis Brawley, MD, medical director, American Cancer Society. “Prevention efforts are finally catching up with our treatment efforts and are starting to bear fruit.”

For all major cancers—lung, colon, breast (in women), and prostate—rates fell; specifically, earlier detection made possible by improved screening helped death rates for colon cancer drop 4.3% per year from 2002 to 2005, and new breast cancer cases and associated deaths fell 2.2% and 1.8%, respectively, per year among women from 1999 to 2005.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve had really good reports,” said Larry Norton, MD, breast cancer specialist and medical director, Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY. “We’ve made some progress with the limited amount of money we’ve put in. Just imagine if we really made a major investment.”

The news isn’t all good though. A rise in obesity—which factors into 15-20% of all cancer cases, according to lead author of the report, Ahmedin Jemal—was seen during the time period. “Both for the nation and globally, I’m concerned that obesity may be the tobacco of the 21st century,” said Robert Croyle, PhD, director, division of cancer control and population sciences, National Cancer Institute. Additionally, Native Americans saw no decline in cancer death rates, and black had the highest rates of cancer death of any ethnic group, according to the report.

For more on cancer death and diagnosis statistics visit:

National Cancer Institute — Cancer Statistics

National Center for Health Statistics — Cancer

American Cancer Society — Statistics for 2008

American Cancer Society — Facts & Figures 2008