Cancer Takes a Holiday


The number of U.S. cancer deaths has decreased significantly for the second year in a row in 2004. The American Cancer Society reported 553,888 cancer deaths in 2004, 3,014 fewer than in 2003. There were 369 fewer deaths in 2003 than in 2002, which was notable as the first recorded drop in cancer deaths in more than 70 years.

Doctors say that the 2003 number is so small that it can't be hailed as a milestone in cancer treatment. The 2004 drop is tremendously significant though….

The recorded drops in deaths came from three of the four major forms of cancer — breast, prostate and colorectal — and a decline in deaths among men from the fourth, lung cancer.

This comes as a result of several factors: a decline in cigarette smoking among men, wider screening of men and women for colon cancer, prostate and breast cancer, and better treatments, according to Jemal and others….

The rate of cancer deaths—the number of deaths per 100,000 people—has been dropping for more than a decade. But with the population steadily aging, the total number of cancer deaths kept climbing.

More here.

Back in 2001, Reason's Ronald Bailey asked the question, "What Cancer Epidemic?"

NEXT: Arizona Expands Seizure Laws

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  1. And it’s all because of the public health and anti-smoking policies!

  2. I would have liked to see these numbers put in context by comparing them to the number of cancer cases as a whole.

    How much of this is from fewer people getting cancer, and how much from more people beating cancer?

  3. At least libertarians will acknowledge the roll we fasicsts have played in this. We’re also resonsible for those little deodorant cakes in the urinals. Freedom means niente to us. An environment free of tobacco smoke and bad odors means everything. Stuff your personal rights. Viva il Duce!

  4. “The rate of cancer deaths – the number of deaths per 100,000 people – has been dropping for more than a decade. But with the population steadily aging, the total number of cancer deaths kept climbing.”

    Since the total number is going up and the total deaths are going down, that would indicate that more people are beating cancer Joe.

  5. The more I re-read that quote, the less sense it makes.

    I think the author meant to say, “But with the population GROWING…,” not “…aging…,” since the explanation for higher totals yet lower rates is a larger population.

    Anyway, John, the “total number” referred to in the quote is deaths, not cases.

  6. Not that they would be interested in politicizing cancer statistics. But almost two-thirds of the decline can be directly attributed to 2,000 less colon cancer deaths. Something not generally affected by smoking. Yet the number one factor cited for the decline in deaths was less smoking.

    They wouldn’t be trying to justify all those smoking bans, would they?

  7. I suspect that it means more people are beating cancer, since an aging population would be more prone to cancer. But, yes, it would be nice to have this made explicit.

  8. Could be diabetes complications getting ppl b4 the cancer kicks in.

    Fascinating subject.

    I love looking at the per capita smoked over time (circa 1900-2000) graph for the US.

    Best graphic demonstration of the power of a warning label I have ever seen. first time derivative of the smoking rate decresed dramatically and soon thereafter had its latest zero crossing.

  9. well, non-local zero crossing: there is noise in the curve.

  10. Ah, more anti-smoking freedom propoganda disguised as science. Cute.

  11. The decline is the result of 2 factors.

    1) More people beat cancer,
    2) Fewer people (smaller percentage) develop cancer

    This can be traced to
    1) Prevention efforts…including but not limited to less smoking (lung cancer is the biggest killer and there is a 2% decline among men… the prime factor pushing the result)
    2) earlier detection
    3) better treatment

    “”The decrease from 2002 to 2003 means that the decline in death rates had become sufficiently large that it was bigger than the aging and growth of the population,” Dr. Thun said.

    ”You would predict this is a trend that may have a few bumps but will continue,” he said.

    Dr. Robert A. Hiatt, deputy director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said, ”From the beginning of the century it’s been going up and up and up, and this is the first time we’ve turned the corner.”

    Elizabeth Holly, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, said, ”It’s quite good we’ve made some progress in our advance against cancer, but what it really is reflecting, fortunately, is a change in personal smoking habits and early detection and treatment in prostate, colorectal and breast cancer.”

    Tobacco still accounts for 30 percent of cancer deaths, she said, and death rates from smoking are not decreasing in women as they are in men, because women began to quit smoking later than did men. “

  12. Guy,

    Who do you think makes those science disguises. Ever hear of Ugo Boss?

  13. The report is not anti-smoking propoganda Guy. Smoking is only one factor discussed.

    Highlights of the Report:

    * Better prevention, early detection and advances in treatment have helped some developed nations lower incidence and mortality rates for certain cancers, but in most parts of the world cancer is a growing problem. Cancer killed 6.7 million people worldwide in 2002, and the global cancer death toll is expected to increase to 10.3 million in 2020.

    * Most cancers are linked to a few controllable factors such as tobacco use, poor diet, lack of exercise and infectious diseases. In developed nations, poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity and obesity are second only to tobacco use as causes of cancer.

    * Tobacco use is the number one cause of cancer and the leading cause of preventable death throughout the world. If current trends continue, 650 million people alive today will eventually die of tobacco-related diseases, including cancers of the lungs, esophagus and bladder.

    * Lung cancer is still expected to be the leading cancer killer in both men and women in 2006, with 87 percent of those deaths linked to smoking. The report lists 15 different types of cancer that are related to tobacco use.

    * Lung cancer incidence and death rates continue to decrease in men. Among women, the lung cancer incidence rate has leveled off, but death rates continue to increase. Lung cancer remains the top cause of cancer death in the U.S, with an estimated 174,470 new cases and 162,460 deaths expected in 2006.

    * Breast cancer remains the most common cancer other than skin cancer among women in the United States, with an estimated 212,920 new cases and 40,970 deaths expected in 2006. Despite increasing incidence, particularly among older women, the death rate from breast cancer continues to decline.

    * Prostate cancer is the most common cancer other than skin cancer among men in the United States, with an estimated 234,460 new cases and 27,350 deaths expected in 2006. Although death rates have decreased since the early 1990s, prostate cancer death rates among African-American men remain more than twice as among white men.

    * Colon and rectum cancer combined are the third most common cancer in both men and women, with 148,610 new cases projected in 2006. Incidence rates decreased by 1.8 percent annually between 1998 and 2002. Scientists believe the decrease is partly due to an increase in screening exams and polyp removal, which prevents polyps from turning into cancer.

    “Colon cancer screening is probably one of the most underused ways to save one’s life from cancer that exists,” Thun said in a press release from the American Cancer Society. “But we have a long way to go on this screening. Only about half of people are getting screened . . . It’s low across the board, but it’s particularly low in people who lack health insurance and have other obstacles that make it especially hard.”

  14. What about cancer of the left buttcheek? I bet that’s still high.

  15. My doctor, Julie Ann (brave new world, man), hammers on prostate screening. Her goal is to get that to the same place as breast cancer screening is.

    One of the incredible discoveries that I’m sure has advanced the cancer fight is the dirt simple PSA test that forecasts the possibility of prostate cancer. Before that you either went for the rubber glove or when you felt like you were sitting on a football, you went to the doctor. Couple the early detection with the slow growing nature of prostate cancer and you’ve got a fight you can win.

    Then there’s those Seventh Day Adventists over at Loma Linda University who’ve pretty much perfected the art of proton cancer therapy. These guys are so good that you can get outpatient cancer treatment and drive yourself home afterward.

    In another dozen years or so Bailey’s crowd is going to just cut out Guy’s lungs and insert new pink ones grown from cell tissue in a lab.

    Happy days are here again. Unless you get run over by a babe in a black Suburban with a cell phone glued to her ear.

  16. “My doctor, Julie Ann (brave new world, man), hammers on prostate screening.”

    That’s really not the preferred technique for that particular procedure.

  17. my class 3 anaplastic astrocytoma brain tumor is for sale if anyone wants it. (wish I was kidding) 🙁

  18. Since I’m too lazy to go to the library, does anyone have good information on *age-adjusted* cancer *incidence* rates? I know that the age-adjusted trends towards reduced incidence of lung cancers are well-established, but I’m wondering about other sites.

  19. Joe, LOL, you win the thread.

    Timothy, I wish you were kidding too.

  20. It’s all the organic farming, geeze.

  21. “Happy days are here again. Unless you get run over by a babe in a black Suburban with a cell phone glued to her ear.”

    I’ve often thought that someone should write a scifi story based around the idea of what happens to a society after it’s developed cures for nearly every disease, ailment, and worn-out body parts. Would risk aversion become the new health epidemic that the CDC would rail against?

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