BETHESDA, MarylandTotal annual cancer cases will likely double in the
United States during the first half of the 21st century, with 2.6 million
people diagnosed with the disease in the year 2050, according to a new federal
report (see Figure). The major driving force for this projected increase is the
growth and aging of the American population, which will sharply increase the
number of cases even if the cancer rate remains constant.
Physicians diagnosed 1.3 million cancers in 2000. The projected cancer
burden a half-century from now assumes that cancer rates will follow current
patterns and that the number of Americans age 85 and older will quadruple
during the same period.
"The data presented in the report underscores the critical need for
expanded and coordinated cancer control efforts to serve an aging population
and reduce the burden of cancer in the elderly," said Richard J. Hodes,
MD, director of the National Institute on Aging.
New Standard Population
For the first time, the NCI has changed its calculation of its age-adjusted
cancer rates. During the past 3 decades, age adjustment has been made based on
a 1970 standard population. Now the Institute has moved to a year 2000 standard
population, a change adopted by all federal health agencies because of the
soaring number of elderly Americans.
As a result, NCI said, "cancer rates adjusted to the year 2000 standard
will be higher because more emphasis is given to the patterns for older
persons, who have higher rates of cancer." In fact, almost all statistics
for health conditions and deaths that affect older persons will appear higher
when adjusted to the 2000 standard.
"Thus," NCI said, "comparisons of rates adjusted to the 2000
standard are possible, while comparisons between rates adjusted to different
standards, such as 1970 and 2000, are not valid."