About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Risk of cancer is a little less than it once was

SurgeryOne of the questions asked during the debate about Mary Washington Hospital’s proposed cancer center is whether the incidence of cancer has been increasing or decreasing. The answer, it seems, is yes.

When the question came up, I contacted Regina Kenner of the Cancer Navigator program at Mary Washington Hospital. Regina recommended the database maintained by the Commission on Cancer and the American Cancer Society. The agencies started the database in 1989. Mary Washington Hospital and about 1,400 other cancer programs in the U.S. report their cancer cases to this database. The agencies believe they capture about 75% of all newly diagnosed cancer cases of cancer in the U.S.

The database publishes a case count each year for 54 sites on the body. I compared the case counts for 2000, the first year that’s available, to the case counts for 2006, the latest year. The counts for 17 sites declined during that time. Thirty-seven sites increased.  

The declines included two major cancers, colon and prostate. In 2006, for example, there were 70,537 colon cancer cases reported nationwide, down from 73,469 in 2000. Prostate cancer dropped to 126,058 cases from 129,259 in 2000.

Breast cancer and lung cancer, two other major cancer types, increased during those years, as did the total number of cancer cases. In 2006, just over 1 million people in the U.S. learned that they had cancer.

The numbers are raw case counts and are not adjusted for the 6 percent population increase that occurred in the U.S. between 2000 and 2006.

Other sources show slightly different numbers. The National Cancer Institute, for example, shows other cancer types, such as breast cancer, on the decline. And the numbers are not current: the latest NCI data are for 2005. Still, there has been great progress. In certain specific ways, cancer is not the threat it once was.

The Commission on Cancer database is here.

 The types of cancers that declined from 2000 to 2006 were:

Lip Prostate Intrahepatic bile duct
Floor of mouth Testis Larynx
Gum Colon Penis
Nasopharynx Rectosigmoid junction Cervix
Hypopharynx Rectum Vagina
Pharynx Vulva

 The National Cancer Institute has a ton of data here.