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Cancer Cases Decline over 5-Year Period in All Groups

The Washington Post

The incidence of cancer among Americans is declining for the first time since the 1930s, a team of epidemiologists announced Thursday.

From 1990 to 1995, the annual number of new cases of cancer for every 100,000 Americans fell steadily. The overall trend was seen in both sexes, most ethnic groups and most age groups, the team reported.

The report comes slightly more than a year after the announcement that mortality from cancer - the nation's second-leading cause of death - had declined for the first time in two decades. The drop in incidence is probably more significant because it signals an ebbing of the disease itself, rather than simply an improvement in treatment of it.

"This study brings an exciting message of hope," said James S. Marks, director of the chronic disease program at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The chances of getting cancer are declining and the chances of dying of cancer are declining even faster."

Reasons for the fall in incidence include healthier lifestyles and, to a much lesser extent, more aggressive treatment of precancerous conditions. The fall in death rates - which researchers said continues - is attributable to earlier detection of the disease, and better therapies for many types of it even in relatively advanced stages.

Speaking at a news conference where the data were presented, Richard D. Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute, said that in 1995 there were about 30,000 fewer cancer deaths, and 70,000 fewer new cases of cancer diagnosed, than had been predicted 20 years earlier. He noted that many of the factors responsible for this - better consumer education, new screening tests, optimal clinical care - are currently underused.

"We haven't come close to seeing the benefits (of current optimal medical practice)," he said.

The annual incidence of all forms of cancer rose an average of 1.2 percent a year from 1973 to 1990. It fell an average of 0.7 percent a year from 1990 from 1995.

Cancer death rates rose an average of 0.4 percent a year from 1973 to 1990, but declined an average of 0.5 percent a year in the first half of this decade. Mortality from lung, breast and prostate cancer were rising during the earlier period, and fell significantly during the more recent one, the researchers reported.

The incidence data are from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) survey.