For the first time since the government began compiling records, the rate of cancer has begun to decline, marking a tipping point in the fight against the second-leading cause of death among Americans.
Researchers already knew that the number of cancer deaths was declining as the result of better treatment, but the drop in incidence indicates that major progress is also being made in prevention.
Incidence rates for all cancers combined and for men and women combined dropped by 0.8% per year from 1999 through 2005, with the rates for men dropping at about three times the rate for women. The only ethnic groups for which rates did not decline were American Indians and Alaskan natives.
The overall death rate declined by an average of 1.8% per year over the same period.
Currently, about 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year, and an estimated 560,000 die from it.
The decline in both incidence and death rates was due in large part to declines in the five of the six most common cancers—lung, colorectal and prostate in men and breast and colorectal cancer in women. The sixth most common form, lung cancer in women, leveled off.
Our science writer Ron Bailey back in our June 2001 issue was explaining how environmentalist fears of an increasingly artificial world allegedly leading to increased cancer were off the mark, and how right he was.