President Bush on Wednesday hailed the downward trend in cancer deaths in the United States, a signal that medicine is making strides in the battling a disease that kills nearly 1,500 Americans a day.

"This is the second consecutive year there was a drop in the number of cancer deaths in the United States," Bush said at the National Institutes of Health Laboratories. "And the drop this year was the steepest ever recorded."

Bush, who participated in a round-table discussion of advances in cancer prevention, also urged Congress to pass legislation to protect the privacy of a person's genetic information — which can reveal a person's predisposition to disease. Employers or insurance companies, for instance, would not be able to use such information against individuals and their offspring.

"If a person is willing to share his or her genetic information, it is important that that information not be exploited in improper ways, and Congress can pass good legislation to prevent that from happening," Bush said. "In other words, we want medical research to go forward without an individual fearing of personal discrimination."

The president's visit to the institute coincided with the release of an American Cancer Society report showing cancer deaths dropped to 553,888 in 2004 — down from 556,902 in 2003 and 557,271 in 2002.

After a decline of 369 deaths from 2002 to 2003, the decrease from 2003 to 2004 was 3,014 — or more than eight times greater, according to a review of U.S. death certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics. The drop from 2002 to 2003 was the first annual decrease in total cancer deaths since 1930.

Experts attribute the success to declines in smoking and to earlier detection and more effective treatment of tumors. Those have caused a fall in the death rates for breast, prostate and colorectal cancer — three of the most common cancers. The lung cancer death rate in men has also been falling, but the female rate has reached a plateau.

Before the round-table, Bush visited a urological oncology laboratory run by the National Cancer Institute. He peered into a microscope at slides of kidney cancer cells and looked at family trees to show how the gene identified with the disease moves through generations.