Report to the Nation Highlights Progress, Challenges
The annual ASCO meeting, which concluded today in New Orleans, is always an exciting time for the cancer community. Results from many significant studies are released, and researchers and clinical oncologists from the United States and many other nations learn from leading experts about changes in treatment, the latest in prevention and diagnostics, and, increasingly so these days, advances in the area of survivorship.
Thus it's an ideal time for the release of the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, a collaborative effort of the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCI, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. This year's report, which covers data from 1975 to 2001, delivers some excellent news: Americans' risk of being diagnosed with cancer continues to decline, while survival rates for many cancers continue to improve. Overall, observed cancer incidence rates dropped 0.5 percent annually from 1993 to 2001, while death rates from all cancers dropped 1.1 percent each year during the same period.
Gains in several specific cancer sites are especially noteworthy. In women, for example, lung cancer incidence rates have dropped for the first time and death rates have leveled off. Progress in preventing and treating lung cancer is critically important - it is the number one cause of cancer death, largely because more than 50 percent of cases are diagnosed when the chances of survival are markedly diminished. And as the lead story in this week's Bulletin shows - we are making progress.
The gains made in childhood cancers represent another sterling example of progress. Over the past 20 years, we have seen an absolute survival rate increase of 20 percent in boys and 13 percent in girls. A child diagnosed with cancer now has a greater than 75 percent chance of survival, something attributable to a number of factors, including a very critical one: quality of care. Approximately 70 percent of cancer patients under age 15 are treated in pediatric cancer treatment centers, where they are more assured of receiving state-of-the-art, evidence-based care.
Just as this year's Report delivers good news, it also brings with it some disappointments - especially the continued disparities in cancer incidence and death rates among different racial and ethnic populations. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, the risk of cancer death from all sites combined was higher in every racial and ethnic population, except Asian/Pacific Islanders. African American men, for example, have a higher risk of dying of 12 cancers, compared with white men. The trend was nearly identical for African American women. NCI is committed to eliminating such disparities and, as a community, this must be one of our top priorities.
The President's Cancer Panel also issued an important new report last week that highlights the unique issues and problems that cancer survivors face (see President's Cancer Panel Finds Unmet Needs Among Cancer Survivors). Together these two reports provide a snapshot of where we have been and some valuable insight into where we are headed. They also show that progress brings its own challenges - from finding the best ways to harness new technologies to ensuring that everyone has equal access to quality oncology care. I am confident that, working together, we are up to each and every challenge. As we overcome each obstacle and solve each problem, we move closer and closer to a very noble goal.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach