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."