Lung cancer death rates decline and drive overall decrease in cancer mortality

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Death rates for lung cancer, which account for more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths, dropped at a faster pace than in previous years, according to this year's “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer,” which covered the period between 1975 and 2010. The Report, published online in the journal, Cancer (2013; doi:10.1002/cncr.27514), noted that the recent larger drop in lung cancer deaths is likely the result of the decreased prevalence of cigarette smoking over many years, which is now being reflected in the mortality trends.

The lung cancer death rate decline made up 29% of the total decrease, and declines in colorectal cancer accounted for 17% of the decrease, breast cancer for 16%, and prostate cancer for 8%. Together, these declining cancer death rates have also helped drive decreases in death rates for all cancers types combined, a trend that began about 20 years ago. The decreased death rates for these four cancers accounted for more than two-thirds of the overall reduction in cancer death rates during the period between 2001 and 2010.

However, within this 10-year period, the report showed that mortality rates increased for some cancers, including cancers of the liver and pancreas for both sexes, cancers of the uterus in women, and—in men only—melanoma of the skin and cancers of the soft tissue.

The special feature of this year's Report highlighted the prevalence of other disease conditions (eg, diabetes, chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and 13 others) in cancer patients older than 65 years, and how they affect survival. Studying comorbid conditions is especially important because cancer is primarily a disease of aging and the prevalence of comorbidities also increases with age. Comorbidity is defined as having two or more medical conditions at the same time. The report shows that one-third of patients in this study population have comorbidities, with a higher frequency of comorbidities in patients with lung or colorectal cancer, and that survival is influenced by the presence of other medical conditions as well as the type of cancer, stage at diagnosis, and age.

The Report, produced annually since 1998, is coauthored by researchers from the National Cancer Institute which is part of the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

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