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Prostate Cancer Death Rates Stabilize After Long Decline

Overall cancer death rates continue to drop, federal officials report

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Trends in death rates vary for different types of cancer.

While cancer-caused deaths continue to drop, the death rate for prostate cancer has stabilized after two decades of decline and cases of advanced forms of the disease have increased, federal officials reported Tuesday. 

The mixed results were spelled out in an "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer," which reinforces many positive trends of recent years, as strategies to contain the disease appear to be largely successful.

The report on mortality data from 1999 through 2015 found that overall cancer deaths decreased by 1.8 percent per year among men and by 1.4 percent per year among women. A companion study finding an uptick in late-stage prostate cancer cases is a jarring countertrend.

“This year’s report is an encouraging indicator of progress we’re making in cancer research. As overall death rates continue to decline for all major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, it’s clear that interventions are having an impact,” National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless, M.D., said in a press statement. “The report also highlights areas where more work is needed.”

From 2011 to 2015, death rates for cancers of the liver, pancreas, brain and nervous system increased in men and women, the report says. Rates rose for cancer of the uterus among women and for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx and soft tissue among men.

The companion report found that overall prostate cancer cases declined an average of 6.5 percent a year between 2007 and 2014. But incidents in which cancer spread from the original tumor to other parts of the body increased from 7.8 new cases per 100,000 in 2010 to 9.2 new cases in 2014. After a long decline between 1993 and 2013, prostate cancer deaths leveled off between 2013 and 2015.

The latest trend occurred just as many low-risk patients were following doctors' advice to steer clear of prostate cancer testing. That doesn’t necessarily explain the fact that prostate cancer death rates have stopped falling, said Serban Negoita, M.D., lead author of the prostate cancer report. He called for more research to explore the reasons.

“This (annual cancer) report underscores that if cancer is caught early, when it has the best chance of being treated, patients can live longer,” said Robert R. Redfield, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Early detection and timely, quality treatment are keys to saving lives.”

The annual report was prepared by the NCI, CDC, the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. The studies were published in the journal Cancer.  

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