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Study Shows First-ever Drop in U.S. Cancer Rates

New cancer rates in the United States have declined for the first time and the cancer death rate among men and women has continued to drop, according to a report published Tuesday. A doctor discusses the promising new data with Judy Woodruff.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally tonight, a Health Unit look at what's behind a drop in the occurrence of cancer in the United States.

    Death rates from many kinds of cancer have been declining here since the '90s. It is the second-leading killer in the United States, responsible for roughly 560,000 deaths annually. Roughly 1.4 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

    But now the latest annual report on cancer statistics finds a drop in newly diagnosed cases, as well, the first time that's happened since the government began tracking it.

    The drop was small — about 0.8 percent annually between 1999 and 2005 — but researchers are trying to understand what accounts for it.

    For more, we turn to Dr. Larry Norton. He is a deputy physician in chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

    Dr. Norton, what has happened to the occurrence of cancer?

  • DR. LARRY NORTON, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:

    Well, this is very exciting information, clearly. We're seeing an across-the-board decrease in incidents, if you look at all sites and deaths, are particularly in the major cancers, in men, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, in women, colorectal cancer, as well, and breast cancer, where there's been a big change.

    Lung cancer, unfortunately, is stable in women. And that's because we haven't been as successful in getting women to stop smoking or not start smoking as we have with men.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, again, this is not all types of cancer that are decreasing in occurrence, right?

  • DR. LARRY NORTON:

    Well, across the board, there's a decrease. There are the cancers that are not being studied as intensively. We're not seeing as big a change.

    We are seeing an increase in some cancers, and that's of concern: brain cancer, for example, is a concern; thyroid cancer in women; kidney cancer. And that has to be studied, as well.

    I think the important part of the story is that where we've been able to concentrate our research efforts, we've really been able to make a big difference.

    And the diseases where we've made a big difference is because we have a multi-pronged attack: public education, prevention, diagnosis, therapy. It all comes together as a package. And when we're able to do that as a package, that's when we can really make a difference.

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