America’s cancer death rate has been dropping since the early 1990s, a new study shows.

That’s “progress,” write the researchers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

However, they also found a slight rise in women’s cancer cases and ongoing cancer disadvantages in some racial and ethnic groups.

Lung cancer remains the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths for men and women alike, the study shows.

The annual report is a joint project of the American Cancer Society, the CDC, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Cancer Registries.

America's Leading Causes of Death are Changing

Fewer Cancer Deaths

The drop in overall cancer death rates began in the early 1990s. Before that, reported cancer deaths had risen for more than 60 years, write the National Cancer Institute’s Brenda Edwards, PhD, and colleagues.

Cancer deaths for men and women combined dropped about 1 percent per year from 1993 to 2002, the study shows.

That includes all cancer “sites” (such as the breast, prostate, and colon) combined. It also covers several of the 15 most common cancers.

Death rates dropped for 12 of the 15 most common cancers for men. Those were cancers of the lung, prostate, colon and rectum, pancreas, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, bladder, stomach, brain, and oral cavity, as well as myeloma and melanoma.

Death rates also dropped for nine of the 15 most common cancers for women. Those were cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, brain, stomach, cervix, and bladder, as well as myeloma.

The researchers did not include nonmelanoma skin cancers in their study.

Most Common Cancers: Prostate, Breast Cancer

Slight Rise in Women’s Cancer Cases

The study didn’t just track cancer deaths. It also covered how many people have cancer. That’s called the incidence of cancer.

Men’s incidence for all cancer sites combined was stable from 1995 to 2002.

However, women’s incidence of cancer rose slightly (by less than 0.5 percent per year) from 1987 to 2002.

Women’s lung cancer deaths also rose from 1995 to 2002. However, the incidence was stable from 1998 to 2002, the study shows.

Blacks Fare Worse With Cancer

Most Common Cancers

Here are the five most common cancers for men from 1992 to 2002:

1. Prostate cancer

2. Lung cancer

3. Colon and rectal cancer

4. Urinary bladder cancer

5. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The five most common cancers for women during that period were:

1. Breast cancer

2. Lung cancer

3. Colon and rectal cancer

4. Cancer of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) and uterus

5. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Leading Cancer Killers

The leading causes of cancer deaths from 1992 to 2002 for men were:

1. Lung cancer

2. Prostate cancer

3. Colon and rectal cancer

4. Pancreatic cancer

5. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Women’s top five causes of cancer deaths were:

1. Lung cancer

2. Breast cancer

3. Colon and rectal cancer

4. Pancreatic cancer

5. Ovarian cancer

Special Report: A Closer Look at Cancer

Some Groups Left Out

“This progress is not equally shared across all racial and ethnic populations,” write the researchers.

For instance, black men’s death rate for all cancer sites combined was 43 percent higher than that of white men. Black men’s death rates for myeloma, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer were more than 200 percent higher than those of white men, the study shows.

Asians/Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Native Alaskan, and Hispanic/Latino populations generally had fewer cancer cases and cancer deaths than blacks and whites.

Exceptions include stomach and liver cancer. Those cancers disproportionately affect Asians/Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Native Alaskan, and Hispanic/Latino populations, the researchers write.

Cutting Your Cancer Risk

Check with your doctor about lowering your cancer risk. Strategies to improve your lifestyle may include quitting smoking, becoming more physically active, and eating healthfully.

Also, be sure to get screening tests that are recommended for your age group. Those tests may include mammography, which checks for breast cancer, and colonoscopy, which looks for signs of colon cancer. Early detection may boost your odds of surviving cancer.

Visit WebMD's Cancer Health Center

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Edwards, B. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Oct. 5, 2005; vol 97: pp 1407-1427. News release, Journal of the National Cancer Institute.