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Report finds U.S. cancer death rates declining

But number of cases expected to double in next 50 years

Lung cancer deaths are down for all groups except for older women, but lung cancer remains the leading cancer killer.  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Cancer death rates have been dropping, but the number of Americans diagnosed with cancer will rise, sending a stark message that more research and expanded care will be needed to tackle the growing health-care burden, according to a report from major cancer organizations.

The findings, based on an analysis of census data and newly compiled cancer statistics, will appear Wednesday in the journal Cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the most important risk factor for cancer is age. Because the U.S. population is growing as well as aging, the authors of the study focused on how, even if rates of cancer remain constant, the number of people diagnosed with the disease will increase.

"The continuing decline in the rate of cancer deaths once again affirms the progress we have made against cancer," said National Cancer Institute Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach. "But the report also highlights the need for an acceleration of research as the population of the United States ages."

Cancer by the numbers 

Scientists found a steady decline in the U.S. death rate from all kinds of cancer in the 1990s.

From 1993 to 1999 -- the latest year for which figures were available -- the U.S. cancer death rate dropped an average of about 1 percent annually. Most of the decline in death rates occurred in lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer, which account for more than half of all U.S. cancer deaths.

Lung cancer deaths were down for all age and sex groups, except older women. Breast cancer death rates declined among black women for the first time.

But while cancer death rates slowly dropped, the rate of cancer cases held steady.

The authors projected the cancer burden in about 50 years by applying U.S. Census Bureau population projections to current cancer incidence rates.

"If cancer rates follow current patterns, we anticipate a doubling from 1.3 million people in 2000 to 2.6 million people in 2050 diagnosed with cancer," said Holly L. Howe, executive director of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, an organization that develops and promotes uniform data standards for cancer registration.

"The number of cancer patients age 85 and over is expected to increase fourfold in this same time period," Howe said.

The authors said the projections show the need to speed up the pace of research, including cancer prevention and screening, and improve therapies, including treatments for an aging population, many of whom have other problems associated with age.

The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Aging compiled the report. It is the fifth yearly "report card" to the nation.


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