Cancer Rates Steadily Falling

American Cancer Association reports tenth straight year of falling rates.

Improved early detection is a major reason why cancer rates have dropped in recent years. (Photo: Getty Images)
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

For the tenth year in a row, fewer Americans are dying of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society's annual report on cancer statistics released on Wednesday, death rates are continuing to fall, dropping by 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.6 percent per year in women between 2004 and 2008. Reuters reports that between 1999 and 2008, cancer death rates fell by more than 1 percent per year in men and women in every racial and ethnic group except for American Indians/Alaska Natives (where rates have held steady).

The steady decline is primarily the product of improved cancer-fighting technology and better early detection methods. The biggest single dip was in lung cancer rates, which accounted for 40 percent of the total drop in men and 34 percent of the total decline in women.

The report also noted that the biggest declines were found in black and Hispanic men, where cancer deaths fell by 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

"Roughly about a million more people are alive that would have been dead because of cancer. That's a substantial number," said Dr. Ravi Patel of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center, to the NBC affiliate KGET.

But there is still much to be done. Making changes in our diets and lifestyle choices can reduce cancer rates even further, and as Dr. Patel stresses, no advance in medical technology can match a vigilant prevention program.

"One-third of the cancers are caused by tobacco, another third by obesity, so we really still need to focus on prevention, weight reduction, good lifestyle changes," said Dr. Patel.

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