BETHESDA, MdThe number of cancer deaths in the United States
remained flat for the first time between 1996 and 1997, at about
540,000 (Figure 1). And the
decreases in the mortality rates of many cancers seen in the first
half of the 1990s seem to have accelerated, a preliminary review of
cancer data for 1997 reveals.
Because of the increasing size and the aging of the US population,
the number of cancer deaths had been projected to continue rising
unless the decrease in total cancer mortality sharpened.
That appears to have happened, National Cancer Institute
director Richard D. Klausner, MD, told the National Cancer Advisory
Board. Despite a 9.6% increase over the decade in the
population over age 65, where 70% of the cancer burden is, we know
that in 1997 there were no more deaths from cancer than there were in
1996 [Figure 2]. We hope this is an
actual peak that falls.
The decline in cancer mortality accelerated between 1995 and 1997.
NCI staff is now analyzing and interpreting the mortality and
incidence data, which were developed by the Institutes
Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and the
Center for Health Statistics. A full analysis of 1997 cancer
statistics should be released in May.
NCI now predicts that mortality for all cancers will decline at an
annual rate of 0.8% a year. Some of the  rates for
specific cancers are really strikinga 2.1% per year drop in
mortality for breast cancer and a drop of 2.2% for prostate
cancer, Dr. Klausner said.
As a result of such findings, projections for the number of deaths
and newly diagnosed cases are dropping for certain cancers. For
the year 2000, for example, we are projecting, with the American
Cancer Society, 30,000 to 31,000 prostate cancer deaths, Dr.
Klausner said. The projection for 1999 was 37,000 deaths.
The decline in mortality is broadly seen across most of the
major cancers, the NCI director said. The only cancers
that are rising significantly in terms of mortality remain
non-Hodgkins lymphomaalthough the rate of rise is lower
than it had beenliver cancer, esophageal cancer, and lung
cancer in women.
NCI analysts are trying to determine in which population subgroups
liver cancer mortality is rising and how much of the rise reflects
the growing problem of hepatitis C.
We believe the 1998 numbers will continue down, Dr.
Klausner said. I think this is one measure of the incremental
changes from prevention, early detection, and treatment.