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Study Shows Drop in Cancer Deaths for Second Straight Year

The American Cancer Society reported Wednesday that cancer deaths in the United States fell in 2004 for the second straight year due to better screening and fewer smokers. Dr. Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, explains the findings.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Not only did the number of Americans who died from cancer fall for the second straight year in 2004, but the decline was far sharper than in 2003.

    The most significant drops in 2004 were recorded in three common cancers, colorectal, breast and prostate, and also in lung cancer among men. Cancer remains the second-leading cause of death in the United States. And lung cancer still accounts for the lion's share of fatal cases.

    For more on this development and what's behind it, I'm joined by Dr. Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, which issued today's report.

    Dr. Eyre, welcome. Now that this is the second year in a row we've seen a drop in cancer deaths, are you comfortable saying this isn't a fluke but this is a trend?

  • DR. HARMON EYRE, American Cancer Society:

    Well, we believe, Margaret, that it does represent the beginning of a trend. And, clearly, in the last few years, we've been able to document a declining death rate or incidents of deaths per 100,000 individuals.

    But the aging population and the growing population have overcome that, so that the actual number of people dying had been increasing until these last two years. But we're seeing a much steeper decline in that death rate, and the steepness of that decline has been enough to overcome the aging population.

    As you have 78 million baby boomers getting into an age range where cancer is more common, you've got to see a pretty substantial decline in death rates to actually reverse the overall trend and see the numbers go down. So we're very optimistic that this represents the beginning of a much greater decline in death rates and the numbers will continue to go down.