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U.S. Cancer Death Rates Dropping at Faster Rate

Cancer death rates in the United States are dropping faster than ever, researchers reported Monday. After a closer look at the findings with NewsHour health correspondent Susan Dentzer, medical experts outline some of the reasons behind the health trend.

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    Today's annual report showed declines in the death rates of some of the most commonly diagnosed cancers. Researchers also found that the overall rate of new diagnoses fell slightly, as well.

    To walk us through some of these findings is our health correspondent, Susan Dentzer. The Health Unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Susan, thank you for being with us again.

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    My pleasure, Judy.


    Tell us exactly what's happening here.


    Judy, cancer death rate, overall death rates have been dropping for the past 15 years. If we look at what happened from 1993 to 2002, they were dropping about 1.1 percent a year. That's the overall rates of death.

    Essentially what's happened here is that that steam has really picked up. And basically, from 2002 to 2004 — these data released today relate to 2004 — that rate almost doubled. The decline in death rates from cancer almost doubled to 2.1 percentage points a year.


    And why is it?


    Mainly because, first of all, we're seeing drops in mortality in the most common forms of cancer. That's what's really driving these rates down. So that, for example, in men, it's prostate cancer, death rates really dropping, lung cancer death rates really dropping; in women, breast cancer death rates dropping; and in both men and women together, colon cancer rates dropping. And that's pushing these overall levels down.


    But it's not true across the board, is that right?


    No, it's not. As we know, cancer is not one disease. It's really several hundred different diseases that have very different genetic subtypes to them, essentially. And so what we're seeing is actually, in some cancers, the rates are going up, death rates.

    For example, in men, liver cancer rates continue to go up. In women, liver death rates also going up. In women, for example, ovary cancer death rates aren't dropping; they're stabilizing. In men, back to men again, melanoma death rates stabilizing, not dropping. So depending on what you're looking at, you're going to see a different story.