The lung cancer death rate among women appears to be declining for the first time in 40 years, according to an annual report published by multiple institutions. Findings from the report were recently released in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

A report on the status of cancer is published each year by the National Cancer Institute, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society. Findings are comprised of information collected from these four institutions.

As a group, women took up smoking in the middle of the twentieth century, which resulted in an increase in smoking-related illnesses. Thanks to a more recent decline in smoking among women, lung cancer deaths are also decreasing.

Following a peak in lung cancer deaths among women in 2002, the rate declined by about 1% through 2007 (the final year included in the report). According to one researcher on the study, this marks a “statistically significant decline.”

In addition the findings on lung cancer among women, the report shows other areas of decline in both cancer incidence and death. Promising news includes a drop in diagnoses and deaths for common cancers among all Americans (all racial and ethnic groups). Fewer incidences of lung and colorectal cancer in men and lung, breast, and colorectal cancer in women are cited as the main cause of this decline. Deaths have also declined from prostate, ovarian, kidney, stomach, and brain cancers. Falling mortality rates are attributed to advances in screening and treatment as well to a drop in smoking rates.

Findings from the report, however, are not positive for all diseases. Rates of diagnosis and death are increasing for melanoma as well as liver, pancreatic, and uterine cancers. It is thought that obesity and hepatitis are driving the rise in liver cancer and that sun exposure is contributing to the increased incidence of melanoma.

The decline lung cancer mortality among women and the decrease in overall cancer incidence and death among all Americans is encouraging, but the researchers conclude that continued progress in the prevention, detection, and management of the disease is still needed. As the U.S. population ages, more people will be at risk for common cancers, and effective measures to control these diseases remain critical.

Reference: Annual report to the nation shows continuing decline in cancer mortality [memo to the media]. Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. March 31, 2001.

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