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New cancer cases, deaths on the decline

December 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Researchers say there's a hopeful trend when it comes to cancer survival rates. Plus, doctors are noticing less cases of cancer overall.Overall the news is encouraging, but there are areas where more lives can be saved and changes in our lifestyle can make a difference.

In the last 10 years, the number of new cancer cases and deaths declined significantly across the board, for men, women and most racial and ethnic groups. New diagnoses on average dropped 1 percent per year, and deaths from cancer went down 1.6 percent per year.

Better information, treatment and technology are being credited for the decline. Dr. Donald David, the chief of gastroenterology at City of Hope Medical Center, also says fewer Americans are smoking.

"All the cancers are tobacco related in one way or another, so that's probably having some significant input on colon cancer and lung cancer for sure," said David.

Screening that catch cancer earlier and often is another reason why cancer deaths are on the decline. David says it all has to do with catching lesions before they become cancer.

"Patients that would have probably gone onto develop a cancer don't because we've caught it in a pre-cancerous stage, removed it. Those patients have really never developed cancer who probably were destined to develop cancer in the past," said David.

Bridget Marshall credits mammograms for detecting her breast cancer in 2006. Despite recent guidelines to postpone screening until 50, she thinks women should get them earlier.

Really what you should have is a communication with your doctor and talk about your issues, talk about your family history," said Marshall.

Overall the trends are looking good, but there are few areas where cancer diagnoses and mortality are on the rise, including liver and esophageal disease. Doctors suspect obesity may be to blame.

"We've seen a bump in liver cancer and personally we've seen quite a few patients who have liver disease based upon fatty liver, which is directly tied to obesity," said David.

Esophageal cancer used to be found primarily in heavy drinkers and smokers, now David says we're seeing a mini epidemic of this type of cancer due to acid reflux and obesity that may be driving that.

Experts predict by 2020, half of the U.S. population will be overweight or obese.

A colonoscopy is recommended for everyone 50 or over. Yet, many doctors say less than half the people who should get tested actually do, even though it's generally covered by Medicare and insurance.

If more people got these types of screenings, experts believe the rate of cancer would go down even more.


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