NEW YORK -- Death rates for most forms of cancer have continued to decline despite a surprising and inexplicable rise in the incidence of thyroid cancer in women, scientists reported yesterday.
The report takes a decade-long look at cancer incidence and mortality in the United States. It was compiled by the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.
Medical investigators report a 1.6 percent annual decline in cancer deaths for men from 1992 to 2003 and an 0.8 percent annual drop among women.
"The greater decline in cancer death rates among men is due in large part to their substantial decrease in tobacco use," said Betsy Kohler, president of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. She said efforts need to be increased to reduce tobacco use in women.
Despite a clear gender divide in overall cancer mortality, researchers reported the incidence of breast cancer appears to be leveling off, a plateau most evident from 2001 to 2003. Researchers said it is still far too early to call that development a medical victory.
"There's good news in this report," said Brenda Edwards, associate program director for surveillance research at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda. "For one thing, the death rate is going down for a number of cancer sites."
For the U.S. population as a whole, Edwards said, death rates declined for 11 of the 15 most common forms of cancer in men and 10 of the 15 most common malignancies in women. Strides were particularly evident in the four major forms of the disease: lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, she said.
The report also found a strikingly lower cancer incidence among Latinos from 1999 to 2000. However, statistics also revealed that Latino children tend to have higher rates of leukemia, bone cancer and other forms of the disease than do non-Latino youngsters.
Across the broad spectrum of cancers, Edwards said, there is still need for improvement - and an even greater need for new studies that zero in on the cause or causes of specific forms of the disease.
The analysis, the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, found that the incidence of thyroid cancer has been rising steadily for years, particularly among women. The trend, researchers say, dates from the 1980s. Between 1993 and 2000 the incidence rose 4.6 percent per year for women, and between 2000 and 2003 rates increased by 9.1 percent per year. By comparison, thyroid cancer rates increased in men, but not nearly as significantly.
David Momrow, senior vice president for cancer control with the American Cancer Society, underscored the need to remain focused on prevention and early detection.
"Cancer isn't one disease, it's hundreds of different diseases, and four account for over 50 percent of all mortality," he said, referring to lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
"It's very encouraging that we are making progress, but we need to redouble our efforts and do more."
Delthia Ricks writes for Newsday.