Good news about cancer

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Contrary to what most activist groups would have us think, both incidence and death rates from cancer continue to drop for American men and women from most racial and ethnic groups, according to the "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer," appearing online today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Significant declines were seen for deaths from lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and other forms of cancer, according to Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues involved in the yearly update. Between 2000 and 2009, overall cancer mortality fell by 1.8 percent a year among men, 1.4 percent annually among women, and 1.8 percent a year among children under 14. Overall cancer incidence in men decreased by 0.6 percent a year, remained stable among women and increased by 0.6 percent a year among children under 14.

The news isn t all good however. Deaths still are rising for a few cancers in both men and women. Furthermore, the findings concerning human papillomavirus (HPV) associated cancers are strikingly different from the overall trend, with increasing incidence and disparities across socioeconomic classes and racial and ethnic groups. Some examples of HPV-related cancers in women include cervical and vaginal, and in both genders oro-pharyngeal and ano-rectal tumors.

These differences are especially relevant given the tremendous promise of reducing the overall burden of HPV-related diseases and inequalities offered by recently approved vaccines, Marc Brisson, PhD, of the Hospital Saint-Sacrement in Québec city, and colleagues argued in an accompanying editorial. An important implication of the findings is the need to find ways of reaching vulnerable populations who have even lower rates of protection than the overall low rate of 32 percent. Those populations include the poorer socioeconomic groups and those who lack health insurance.

We ve been advocating increased use of the HPV vaccine for years, and the results are not impressive yet, noted ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. The lessons learned here are, first, there continues to be no evidence of a cancer epidemic, as alarmist groups keep warning in their too-often successful campaigns to generate fear; and, we need more education for parents, school boards and public health officials about the manifold benefits of the HPV vaccine something that can materially contribute to a lower incidence and mortality of certain cancers.