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Cancer Death Rates Drop in US

  • Melinda Smith

Americans seem to be getting the message about taking better care of their health these days. A report compiled by U.S. government health agencies, released this week, shows that death rates from many common forms of cancer are dropping.

For decades Americans have been told to stop smoking -- eat less fat and more fruits and vegetables -- and include some form of physical exercise in their weekly routine.

Not everyone is getting the message about diet. Obesity, for example, is still a major health issue and has been associated with cancer.

But the most recently released figures show that death rates for lung cancer -- the number one cancer killer in the U.S. -- have declined. Experts credit that good news to the anti-smoking message which has gotten through -- at least among men.

Until recent decades it was not socially acceptable for many women to smoke. The report states their death rate for tobacco-related cancers has not declined.

Brenda Edwards of the National Cancer Institute is one of the authors of the U.S. government report:

"The exposure that we know are associated with getting cancer take a long time -- between the exposure factor and when you are diagnosed. And [with] tobacco use, the lag time may take 20 to 30 years."

The second leading cancer is colorectal. But Brenda Edwards says early screening and treatment have made a difference:

"Now with colonoscopies they're finding polyps that may be precancerous, so the removal of that polyp may prevent cancer from occurring."

Breast and ovarian cancer rates have both decreased. Yearly mammography examinations have become routine. And researchers believe an earlier study in 2002 -- linking hormone replacement medication to breast cancer -- also had a significant impact on among older women who stopped taking the drug.

While prostate cancer is still a major disease among men, thanks to the routine use of the PSA [prostate specific antigen] blood test, that disease can be detected early.

Brenda Edwards says the health profile of most Americans is similar to that of people in other developed countries. In less wealthy nations, however, there is a shortage of medical screening techniques:

"Here many of our cancers are diagnosed by imaging tests. That's not available to them. Biopsies: Would not be able to do a biopsy to confirm that that cancer -- that it was cancer. So yes, the economic and health care situation varies so much around the world that our cancer patterns also reflect that."

Cancers of the liver, stomach and pancreas have not declined. And this latest report also states the death rate among American Indians has not dropped because cancer screening and treatment is not as readily available to them.

The overall drop of two percent in cancer deaths may not sound like much. But one expert said in America one percent equates to five thousand people who are living longer and not dying of cancer.

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