Shots - Health Blog
12:14 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

U.S. Cancer Death Rates Decline, But Disparities Persist

The rate at which Americans die from cancer continues to fall, according to the latest estimates from the American Cancer Society.

As a result, nearly 900,000 cancer deaths were avoided between 1990 and 2007, the group figures. Survival gains have come as mortality rates have declined for some of the most common malignancies, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer in women and prostate cancer.

Still, the ACS estimates there will nearly 1.6 million new cancers diagnosed this year, and about 572,000 deaths from the disease. The incidence of cancers hasn't budged much for men in recent years, after falling quite a bit during the first half of the last decade. Cancer incidence for women has been falling since 1998.

The report was just published online by CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Lung cancer remains the biggest killer for both men and women. All told, about 160,000 people in the U.S. are expected to die from it this year. Starting in 1987, more women have died from lung cancer each year than breast cancer.

One section of the report focuses on a persistent and, in some cases, widening gap in cancer death rates between people with the least education and those with the most. Educational attainment is often used in research as a proxy for socioeconomic status.

American Cancer Society epidemiologist Elizabeth Ward, one of the report's authors, tells Shots, "People of a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to smoke and less likely to get access to care where they can get screened for early detection."

Then there's issue of health coverage, which can make a big difference in treatment. "People with higher income jobs usually work for employers who offer better insurance," Ward says.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.