The incidence and death rate from most types of cancer continued a downward trend in the United States thanks to widespread screening, better treatment and lower risk factors, a report said Tuesday.
Cancer mortality fell across the board by 1.6 percent between 2001 and 2006, driven by a drop in incidence and death rates for the three leading causes of cancer for men - prostate, lung and colorectal cancer - and two of the main cancers that affect women - breast and colon cancer.
"The continued decline in death rates from all cancers combined for men and women reflects the impact of increased screening, reduction of risk factors and improved treatment," the report said.
A sustained decline in cancer incidence and deaths was first documented in the annual report, compiled by researchers at leading US cancer and health agencies including the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1998.
A special section of this year's report looked at colorectal cancer and showed that diagnoses of and deaths from the third most common cancer in the United States have both dropped by around a quarter between 1975 and 2000, thanks to reduced risk factors and stepped-up screening.
And the decline in colorectal cancer cases and mortality was expected to continue, the report said.
Getting more people to quit smoking, cut down on their consumption of red meat and moderate other risk factors associated with colon cancer, and stepping up screening could slash the incidence of and deaths from the cancer by half by 2020, the report said.
But the report was not just about gains made in the fight against cancer.
Not all cancers were on the decline, including one of the top three cancers among women, lung cancer, which saw diagnoses increase between 2001-2006.
Other cancers saw higher mortality rates, including melanoma and esophageal cancer in men, pancreatic cancer in women, and liver cancer in both men and women.
Cancer still disproportionately afflicts African Americans and the incidence of colon cancer is rising in people under 50, the report said.
Death rates for all cancers combined between 2002 and 2006 were highest for black men and women.
And although death rates from colorectal cancer have declined since 1984 in both men and women, with the fastest decline among people aged 65 and over, "increasing incidence among younger men and women is of concern," the report said.
More diagnoses of colon cancer in people aged under 50 years could mean an upswing in the number of cases over time, as the likelihood of getting colorectal cancer increases with age.
The fact that more Americans are obese now than were a generation ago and are making "unfavorable dietary changes", meaning they are making less healthy food choices, also heighten the risk of more cases of colon cancer in the future, as both are risk factors for the cancer, the report said.
More than a third of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and obesity causes more than 100,000 incidents of cancer in the US every year, the American Institute for Cancer Research said in estimates published last month.