Decreasing death rates from cancer may be evidence of progress in preventing and controlling the disease, according to a report published in the journal PLoS One (2010 Mar 9;5(3)e9584).

Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, of the American Cancer Society, and colleagues examined trends in US death rates for all cancers combined and for 19 common cancers from 1970 to 2006 and then reviewed how prevention, early detection, and treatment contributed to declines.

Results of the study revealed that cancer deaths among men declined by 21% from 1990 to 2006, while the rate among women declined by 12% from 1991 to 2006. According to the authors, these decreases translated into the prevention of 561,400 cancer deaths in men and 205,700 in women.

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“The greater decrease in the overall cancer death rates in men than women [was] largely due to differences in mortality trends from lung cancer, which accounts for about 80% of all smoking attributable cancer deaths and nearly 30% of the total cancer deaths in the US,” the authors explained.

Additional results revealed that death rates decreased for 15 of the 19 cancer sites, including the four major cancers: lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers in men and breast and colorectal cancers in women.

“Downturns in overall cancer death rates since the early 1990s are largely a result of tobacco control efforts beginning in the 1960s, screening and early detection for several cancers disseminated in the 1980s and 1990s, and modest to large improvements in treatment and survival for specific cancers,” the authors concluded. “Continued and increased investment in cancer prevention and control programs, access to high-quality health care, and basic and clinical research could accelerate this progress.”