Cancer Trending Down


During a Christmas dinner with friends the conversation turned to the dangers of chemicals in our lives and how they are killing us through cancer.  Some spend seemingly exhorbitant amounts to buy foods free of the reaper chemical of the day.  As a non-expert I cannot disprove the premise.  But I am skeptical of all doom and gloom talk, as well as most “cup overfloweth” talk. . .and I have access to the internet (surely everything out there is true). 

I set out to find the true state of cancer.  The results of what I found are Today’s But if Not. 

I googled “trends in cancer.”  The first link is the Cancer Progress Report from the National Cancer Institute. 

Seems like the right place to go. 

Making no attempt to nuance or subdivide, here are the conclusions:

  • The number of people diagnosed with any form of cancer has been trending down since 2001.
  • Survival rates have been increasing since 1974 (the earliest data available)
  • Death rates from cancer have been trending down for 20 years.

These conclusions do not mitigate the tragedy and grief of cancer.  Nor do they diminish the need to continue vigilantly researching cures and treatments.  But I hope they dampen what I deem to be irrational fears and risk avoidance that wastes resources.

Details below the fold.

From the Cancer Trends Progress Report

Overall incidence was on the rise from 1975 to 1989, with non-significant changes in rates from 1989 to 1999. From 1999 to 2006 incidence has significantly declined. Among men, from 1975 to 1992 rates rose. From 1992 to 1995 cancer incidence among men significantly declined, with no significant change between 1995 and 2000. From 2000 to 2006, incidence trends among men resumed a decline. Among women, from 1975 to 1979 rates were stable then rose from 1979 to 1987 before stabilizing again through 1998. From 1998 to 2006 cancer incidence among women has significantly declined.

  • The incidence of any cancer per 100,000 people is currently 530. 
  • Prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer at 160 people diagnosed per 100,000 population. And also the most curable and survivable.
  • Prior increases in cancer incidence are partly due to longer life expectancy (people living long enough to get cancer) and better diagnostics.
  • The incidence of cancer in people younger than 20 has increased from 14 per 100,000 people to 16 per 100,000 people since 1974.  While this should not be discounted, this incidence is very small compared to all other forms of cancer.
  • Smoking and sun exposure represent the two greatest threats to contracting cancer.

Incidence of all forms of cancer

5 Year survival rates from cancer.

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5 Responses to Cancer Trending Down

  1. Pingback: More on Cancer – I’m an Optimist | But If Nots

  2. Wish I had a party says:

    I must say I enjoy your thorough research and analysis of the data that is presented to you (ie: you locate and evaluate quite well), but I would like to know a little bit more about your personal beliefs regarding the chemicals that have been placed in our food supplies for years and how it relates to our health? Do you think that it is possible that we could be living longer based on our bodies reactions to the chemical products we use to mass produce our food as well as our medicines? Do you think there could be any correlation to our mass food production actions (using growth hormones in our primary sources of meat or chemical laiden soil products to grow the food supply in faster/larger quantities) causing an influx of our growth hormones (causing us to become larger physical specimens) or possibly an influx in the diversification of our cancers (we appear to have more differing types of cancer now since it was originally discovered)? Could we only be living longer and combatting the effects of Cancer due to the increase in Cancer fighting drugs and the improvement in said drugs over the years allowing us to nullify it’s affects?

    Just figured I would ask where you stand outside of the charts…

  3. Moose says:

    You know I don’t read books 🙂

  4. Moose says:

    What happened to men in the early 1990’s? It looks like all men were required during that period to smoke 3 packs a day and spend an hour at a tanning salon (and were told to stop 3 years later).

    Another way to look at the overall trend is to conclude that all of those things that they were putting into the air and in our food were indeed killing us, but their presence has been reduced since 1990 by all of those nasty Federal regulations.

    • Sean O'Brien says:

      I’ve been thinking something similar and I would like to hear your thoughts on it or a pointer to an article or book. That in the 50s we were doing open air nuke testing, that in the 70s we burned the Cuyahuga River down – which drove the increases during this period and beyond. Then in 1972 the EPA initiated a series of regulations which over the next 20 years contributed to cleaning up the most egregious violations. The decrease we are seeing now is the latent effect of this. Further, that today’s kids will have an even lower incidence of cancer when they get older.

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