March 31, 2011 -- Lung cancer death rates among women in the U.S. are declining for the first time in 40 years, a study shows.
The study also shows the overall cancer death rate continues a decline that began in the early 1990s.
The cancer death rate is the best indicator of progress against the disease. It fell by about 1.6% a year between 2001 and 2007. The rate fell by about 1% annually between 1993 and 2001.
For all types of cancer, cancer incidence declined by about 1% a year between 1999 and 2007. That’s the last year for which figures are available.
The annual report examining cancer incidence and death trends in the U.S. is a joint effort by the CDC, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
Most Common Cancers
The overall cancer death rate fell for all four of the most common cancers: breast, colorectal, lung and prostate, American Cancer Society vice president for surveillance research Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, tells WebMD.
“We are definitely making progress due to a combination of better prevention, early detection, and treatment,” Jemal says. “But there is still much that we can do to improve this picture. We know that tobacco-control programs, including excise taxes, public smoking bans, and anti-tobacco campaigns, save lives.”
Even though smoking-related cancers are falling, 45 million Americans still smoke. It’s estimated that about a third of cancers are tobacco related.
Lung Cancer: Men vs. Women
More than a decade after the lung cancer death rate among men began to decline, significant decreases in lung cancer incidence and deaths are finally being seen in women.
Between 2003 and 2007, the lung cancer death rate among women fell by almost 1%, compared to a 6% annual increase from 1975 to 1982 and a 1.7% annual increase from 1990 to 1995.
Cigarette smoking peaked among men who were born in the early 1920s.
But women started smoking in large numbers later than men, with rates peaking among those born in the latter half of the 1930s.
Smoking rates also began to decline among women later than men. This is explains why lung cancer death rates continued to rise among women after they began falling in men.
Jemal says lung cancer rates among women in the U.S. can be expected to continue to decline for at least the next two decades as older smokers die and are replaced by women who have never smoked.
Cancer Rates: Racial Gap
African-Americans continue to have the highest cancer death rates overall, but they also saw the largest declines in the overall cancer death rate between 1998 and 2007.
Again, this is largely due to declines in cancers related to smoking, Jemal says.
“When we look at the cancers most affected by screening, the disparity between blacks and whites is still increasing,” he says. “But the death rate disparity is narrowing because smoking-related cancers are declining. The biggest reductions in smoking, especially in younger age groups, have occurred in African-Americans.”
While overall cancer incidence fell for African-Americans and whites, increases were seen in specific cancers:
- Among men, rates of melanoma as well as liver, kidney, and pancreatic cancer increased between 2003 and 2007, and the death rates for all but kidney cancer also rose.
- Among women, the incidence of melanoma, leukemia, and kidney, thyroid, and pancreatic cancer increased during the same time period. Death rates rose for pancreatic, liver, and uterine cancer.
- Among children, cancer death rates continued to decline, as they have since the mid-1970s. But the incidence of childhood cancer has risen slightly since 1992, by about 0.6% a year.
For the first time the report included data on nonmalignant brain tumors, National Cancer Institute Associate Director of Surveillance Research Brenda K. Edwards, PhD, tells WebMD.
Among the major findings:
- Among adults, nonmalignant tumors were about twice as common as malignant ones.
- Brain tumors in children were much rarer than in adults, but they were also twice as likely to be malignant, with malignant tumors accounting for 65% of all childhood brain tumors.
- The most common nonmalignant tumor was meningioma, which was 2.3 times more common in women than in men.