U.S. cancer deaths declined for the second year in a row in 2004, but there are worrisome signs that progress could falter, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society.
Deaths fell by 3,014, following a decline of 369 deaths in 2003. While the number of cancer deaths in women increased slightly in 2003, the number fell for both sexes in 2004 - the first time that has happened since the government began keeping death statistics in the 1930s.
The death rate for all cancers combined has dropped for 12 consecutive years, a total of 13.6 percent from 1991 to 2004. But that drop was smaller than the population growth for the first 10 years, so an actual decline in the number of deaths did not occur until 2003.
The drop "is a remarkable sign that we have the potential to turn back deaths from cancer," said John R. Seffrin, the chief executive of the cancer society. "But this report shows that we have been losing momentum in some key areas that have been critical to our success."
Among other crucial factors, declines in adult and youth tobacco smoking have leveled off and mammography is still not reaching a third of the population at risk.
Nearly a third of all cancer deaths this year will be a direct result of smoking, the report said, and another third are attributable to poor nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity. Many deaths in the remaining third could be prevented by screening to detect cancers early, when they are still treatable.
But progress in controlling tobacco use by both adults and adolescents has stalled. Obesity, another important risk factor, has been doubling in adults to 33.3 percent between 1976 and 2004 and tripling in adolescents to 17.1 percent. Only one-third of youth are physically active for at least 60 minutes for five days per week.