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Caregiving: Cancer deaths down a bit

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http://www.upi.com/ConsumerHealthDaily/ ... 2357-6568r


UPI Health Correspondent

ALBANY, N.Y., March 24 (UPI) -- Recently, so many people in the public eye have died from cancer, or acknowledged battling it, that some are asking if there has been an increase in the rate of cancer.

In the past few weeks, actor and singer Dana Reeve died of lung cancer, singer Sheryl Crow was treated for breast cancer, golfer Tiger Woods left his preparations for the Players Championship to be with his father who has prostate cancer, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards underwent treatment for cancer of the esophagus, Boise State men's basketball star Coby Karl had his thyroid removed due to cancer, actor Don Knotts died of lung cancer and actor Dennis Weaver died of an undisclosed cancer.

"If we look at total number of cancer deaths for 2003 and compare them to total cancer deaths in 2002, there was a net reduction of about 400 cases -- meaning 400 less funerals, and that's good," Brenda K. Edwards, associate director of the Surveillance Research Program at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, told UPI's Caregiving.

In 2002, 557,271 died of cancer in the United State, but in 2003 that number dropped by 369 to 556,902 -- the first drop in the actual volume of cancer deaths since the National Cancer Institute began keeping cancer records in 1930.

"Since the early 1990s, the decline in age-adjusted cancer death rate has declined for quite a number of years, but because the aging demographic was increasing the number of cancer cases and deaths increased as well. It wasn't until 2002 that we saw the first real drop in cancer deaths of almost 400," Edwards said.

"The question is, will the decline in actual cancer deaths continue or will it rise again? We don't know."

Understanding cancer statistics can be difficult because different types of cancers occur in different age groups at different rates.

Cancer incidence rates are tabulated in five-year increments per 100,000 people and are age-adjusted to a standard population using 2000 census figures to allow comparisons over time, according to Edwards.

"The incidence rate involves risk, aging and screening -- for example, there was a dramatic increase of prostate cancer incidence after the PSA test was introduced, with a spike in 1991 and then it dropped (and later rose again)," said Edwards.

"There was also a spike in colorectal cancer. A spike often occurs when somebody famous got colon cancer or dies of it -- we call it the 'Katie Couric Effect,' because someone famous gets his or her colon screened and there is an increase in screenings and then a higher cancer incidence rate, but the survival rate may be better."

Other factors also influence the cancer incidence rate, such as a change in cancer screening tests or in whether they are covered by insurance, Edwards said.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2002, published in the Oct. 5, 2005, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, said cancer death rates from all cancers combined dropped 1.1 percent per year from 1993 to 2002 -- reflecting progress in prevention, early detection and treatment.

Death rates for the four most common cancers -- prostate, breast, lung and colorectal, which account for 51 percent of all U.S. cancers -- have all declined, according to the American Cancer Society.

In men, death rates decreased for 12 of the top 15 cancers, and in women, nine of the top 15 cancers dropped, but lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

The war on cancer, declared in 1971 by President Richard Nixon, is far from over and the treatments continue to be invasive and debilitating, but there may be cause for cautious optimism that the rate of cancer may have turned a corner.

Alex Cukan is an award-winning journalist, but she always has considered caregiving her primary job. UPI welcomes comments and questions about this column. E-mail: consumerhealth@upi.com

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