As cancer survivors celebrate, scientists identify causes for concern

Continuing a decline that started in the early 1990s, the overall mortality rate from all cancers in the U.S. has decreased over the past decade. The 25th observance of National Cancer Survivors Day on June 3 provides a celebratory pause to contemplate how far medicine and medical research have advanced in the battle against all forms of the disease.

Among patients in most racial and ethnic groups, death rates have decreased steadily since 1999. For most types of cancer, including the four most common – lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate – the incidence rates also have decreased.

Some cancers are on the rise, however.

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast-cancer incidence decreased from 1999 to 2004, but has held steady in the eight years since. Diagnosed cases actually increased for several cancers, including pancreas, kidney, and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, all of which generally are associated with excess weight.

Dr. David Gerber, a medical oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is treating an unprecedented number of lung cancers in patients who have never smoked.

“Cancer in never-smokers now represents about 15 percent of lung-cancer cases, and when you figure that there are more than 200,000 cases a year of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States, that’s over 30,000 cases of never-smoker lung cancer,” Dr. Gerber says. “Part of the reason – and this is actually good news – is that health care providers are diagnosing more of it due to improvements in scanning practices and the use of new technologies.”

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