Washington Lung cancer is inching down among women after decades of smoking-fueled increases -- and overall survival rates are improving for most types of tumors among both men and women.
Not everyone is reaping the gains: Minorities still are more likely than whites to die from cancer, says the nation's annual report on cancer, to be published today in the journal Cancer.
But largely, the news remains optimistic. Death rates from cancer in general have dropped 1.1 percent a year since 1993, and today's report confirms that decline continued in 2001. Rates of new cases are declining about half a percent a year, too.
Most striking in this latest tally is what's happening with the No. 1 cancer killer: Rates of female lung cancer diagnoses have declined about 2 percent a year since 1998, years after men began a similar improvement. Also, female death rates from lung cancer have leveled off, remaining virtually unchanged since 1995, the report says.
"For the first time, we are turning the corner in the lung cancer epidemic in women," said Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society, who co-wrote the report with scientists from the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
"We have been anticipating ... this for a long, long time," Jemal added. "It has been overdue."
Smoking became rampant among men long before women, and the resulting lung cancer consequently struck men sooner.
Lung cancer remains the nation's top-killing malignancy for both sexes, and the second most common cancer. But it slowly declined among men starting in the early 1990s as older smokers died and fewer young men took up the habit -- a pattern doctors expect to eventually see in women.
The report's other new finding: More people are living at least five years after a diagnosis of most types of cancer.