WASHINGTON, D.C.--A stalemate that has gripped the longest and most expensive war in modern times--the war on cancer--may finally have eased. The cancer death rate in the United States fell 2.6% between 1991 and 1995, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced today, marking the first sustained decline in 6 decades of modern cancer records.
"This looks like a turning point in the 25-year war on cancer," Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement today. "This is not just a one-time blip, but a real and promising downward trend." Following a 6.4% increase in cancer mortality between 1971 and 1990, the decline suggests that changes in lifestyle and improved treatments are starting to pay off.
For instance, lung cancer mortality in men dropped 6.7%, accounting for more than half the overall 4.3% drop in cancer deaths among men. NCI attributes this fall in part to the 15% decline between 1955 and 1970 in the percentage of men who smoke. For women, however, lung cancer deaths have risen, apparently because smoking among women increased in the 1960s. The rising toll from lung cancer offset significant gains against breast cancer because of earlier diagnosis and better treatment, keeping the overall decline in women's cancer mortality to just 1.1%.
African Americans appeared to make the biggest gains. They experienced an overall 5.6% decline in cancer mortality, compared to an 18.3% rise between 1971 and 1990.
Final cancer rates for 1995 won't be released until next year, but experts predict the downward trend will remain relatively unchanged. Says NCI director Richard Klausner, "The 1990s will be remembered as the decade when we measurably turned the tide against cancer."