The tide has
turned in the nation's battle against cancer. Cancer deaths
in the United States dropped for the second year in a row,
health officials reported Wednesday, confirming that
the trend is real and becoming more pronounced too.
The news was
cause for celebration among doctors and politicians.
exciting," said Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, a cancer
physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell
Medical Center. "When we saw the first decline, the
number wasn't that enormous. But once you start to see
a trend like this, it obviously makes you feel like
'We must be doing something right!' "
Cancer deaths in
the U.S. in 2004 fell to 553,888--a drop-off of 3,014
deaths, or 0.5%, from the year before, according to a review
of U.S. death certificates conducted by the National
Center for Health Statistics and released by the
American Cancer Society.
also fell in 2003, the first drop seen since 1930. But that
decline was so small--just 369 deaths--that
experts were hesitant at the time to say whether it
was a triumph of medicine or just a statistical fluke.
Now, it appears "it's not only continuing; the decrease in
the second year is much larger," said Ahmedin Jemal,
an American Cancer Society researcher.
attributing the success to declines in smoking and to
earlier detection and more effective treatment of
tumors. Those have caused a fall in the death rates
for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer--three
of the most common cancers. The lung cancer death rate in
men has also been falling, but the female rate has
reached a plateau.
On a visit to the
National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.,
President Bush hailed the drop in cancer deaths as a signal
that medicine--especially federally funded
research--is making strides against a disease
that still kills nearly 1,500 Americans a day.
society did not release cancer death data broken down by
state, race, or ethnicity. Those statistics are to be
completed later this year. The largest drop in deaths
among the major cancers was in colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer deaths dropped by 1,110 in men and
by 1,094 in women. Experts said much of the credit goes to
screening exams such as colonoscopies, which
can detect polyps and allow doctors to remove
them before they turn cancerous.
Some doctors say
at least part of the success can be attributed to "the
Katie Couric effect." A 2003 study found colonoscopy rates
jumped more than 20% in the months after The Today
Show host underwent a colonoscopy on national
television in 2000, after her husband died of colon
cancer. Increased insurance coverage of colonoscopies has
also led to more diagnostic screenings, said Dr. A. Mark
Fendrick, the University of Michigan physician who led
For more than a
decade health statisticians charted annual drops of about
1% in the cancer death rate--that is, the number of
deaths per 100,000 people. But the actual number of
cancer deaths still rose each year because of the
growing elderly population and the size of the population
overall. Then, in 2003 and 2004, the cancer death rate
declined by about 2% each year, more than offsetting
the effects of aging and population growth.
Cancer Society said it believes cancer deaths will continue
to drop. Others shared that optimism. ''We're starting to
see some real dividends'' from screening, prevention
and treatment efforts, said Dr. Otis Brawley, an Emory
University researcher specializing in cancer