Falling U.S. cancer rate saves 650,000 lives: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A steady 15-year decline in the U.S. death rate from cancer translates to about 650,000 lives over that time, the American Cancer Society said on Wednesday.

Cancer patient Deborah Charles lies inside the tube of a magnetic resonance imaging scanner during an MRI examination of her breasts at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington May 23, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

But cancer will kill 1,500 Americans every day on average -- with 1.47 million cases diagnosed and 562,000 deaths in 2009, the group said in its annual report on cancer statistics.

Cancer, which causes one in four deaths in the United States, is the No. 2 killer after heart disease.

“A drop of one or two percent per year in the cancer mortality rate may sound small, but as this report shows, that adds up to 650,000 cancer deaths avoided over 15 years,” John Seffrin, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“And because the rate continues to drop, it means that in recent years, about 100,000 people each year who would have died if cancer death rates had not declined are living to celebrate another birthday.”

For men, the cancer death rate fell by 19 percent between 1990 and 2005, mostly because of fewer cases of lung, prostate, and colon cancer, the group said. Cancer deaths fell by 11 percent among women because of decreases in breast and colon cancer.

The rate did not fall more for women primarily because of smoking-related cancers. As men began to smoke less in the 1960s and 1970s, women started smoking more and their rate of kicking the habit lagged men’s by about 20 years. “Lung cancer is expected to account for 26 percent of all female cancer deaths in 2009,” the report said.

Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer by far, and the American Cancer Society projects that 219,440 people will get a lung cancer diagnosis in 2009 and 159,390 will die from it.

Colon cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the United States -- with 49,920 deaths projected and more than 106,000 cases.

Breast cancer will be diagnosed in 194,280 women and men and will kill 40,610 -- including 44 men, the group projects. Prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 192,280 men and will kill 27,360. “Prostate cancer alone accounts for 25 percent of incident cases in men,” the report said.

But it said 91 percent of these prostate cancer cases will be diagnosed early, giving men a 100 percent chance of surviving at least five years.

The group, which projects its statistics based on a variety of sources, said overall rates of cancer fell by 1.8 percent per year from 2001 to 2005 among men and 0.6 percent per year from 1998 to 2005 among women.

Separately, a team at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that 30 percent of people with colon cancer that had spread now survive their disease for at least five years, compared to just 8 percent of such patients in 2004.

They credited better surgical techniques and new drugs, both traditional chemotherapy drugs and new biological agents such as monoclonal antibodies.

Editing by Vicki Allen