Study: cancer deaths on decline in U.S.

Lynne Kozarek

The American Cancer Society released data Thursday indicating that for the first time the overall number of cancer-related deaths in the United States is on a steady decline. The study determined that from 1990-1995 cancer-related deaths declined by 3.1 percent.
Researchers examined data from a number of sources, including the Vital Statistics of the United States; monthly Vital Statistics Reports of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Phillip Cole, lead author of the cancer mortality study and professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the annual cancer mortality rate in 1990 was 135 deaths per 100,000 people. By 1995 the rate was just under 131.
The study covered all cancers, but found that a large part of the decline in cancer-related deaths was a result of a decline in smoking.
Dr. Leonard Schuman, Mayo professor emeritus of public health at the University and co-author of the surgeon general’s first research report on the effects of smoking in 1964, said education plays a large part in smoking-related cancer prevention.
“Cancers related to smoking, such as cancers of the lungs, esophagus, and trachea, are on the decline,” he said, “the dissemination of knowledge on the effects of smoking that has permeated our society has increased awareness.”
Dr. Gordon Ginder, University Hospital’s director of medical oncology and assistant director of the University’s Cancer Center, said the most common type of fatal cancer is lung cancer, which he said has declined by 3.9 percent since 1990.
“We have seen steady improvements in early cancer detection and better treatment,” he said.
Ginder said the future of cancer research lies in studying the genetics of cancer and intensively screening patients for defects before tumors have a chance to develop.
He also said that a big part of cancer prevention is public awareness and public participation.
“We have had scientific evidence that smoking is detrimental for years,” Ginder said. “It is up to the public to absorb that information and follow up on it.”