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Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011/2012 Update

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Director's Message

One of the National Cancer Institute's important duties is communicating our nation's progress against cancer to the public. This 2011/2012 update to the Cancer Trends Progress Report is an important part of that dissemination process. Here you will find a Web site that provides up-to-date information on a range of cancer control topics—from disease prevention to the impact of deaths from cancer—and data that track the successful application of cancer research into practice.

The Cancer Trends Progress Report — 2011/2012 Update draws on data from numerous federal departments and agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and several offices and agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The content, design, and production of this report are the results of a collaboration among federal and state agency partners, consumer advocates, the American Cancer Society, and others.

As the report details, the nation is making progress toward major cancer-related targets. Most prominently, death rates and incidence rates for the four most common cancers (prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal), as well as for all cancers combined, continue to decline. Because lung cancer is the country’s number one cancer killer, smoking is a major focus of this update. Adult cigarette smoking prevalence has been slowly declining since 1991, and smoking prevalence among adolescents has declined since the late 1990s, but one in five adults and adolescents is still a smoker. Moreover, younger cancer survivors are smoking more than older cancer survivors and those in the general population. Non-melanoma skin cancers have continually led the list of incident cancers, and incidence rates for melanoma of the skin are still rising. I am happy to note that, perhaps due to ongoing campaigns, sun protective behaviors have increased since 2005—for example, teen indoor tanning has decreased. However, indoor tanning by older teen girls remains high and young adults, especially young men, show much lower levels of sun protective behaviors. The adult prevalence of sunburn has increased since 2005, indicating that while protective measures have increased, they may not yet be fully compliant with proper usage or there is an increase in length of sun exposure.

We have much work to do if we are truly to make significant progress in our fight against cancer, as this update notes. Incidence rates for some cancers, such as melanoma of the skin, are still rising. Lung cancer incidence rates in women also continue to rise, but not as rapidly as before. This rising incidence is not surprising given that while the percent of smokers attempting to quit smoking each year has risen to 50 percent, quitting success rates have been low and have recently shown only a slight improvement. The connection between cancer and obesity is a concern as more Americans are overweight or obese, and leisure time physical activity is not increasing. Other nutritional and dietary factors are also of concern: alcohol consumption has risen slightly since the mid 1990s, fruit and vegetable intake is not increasing, and red meat and fat consumption are not decreasing, all of which have been cited as possible links to increased risk of cancer. Unexplained cancer-related health disparities remain among population subgroups, and we must address this issue forcefully. For example, Blacks and people with low socioeconomic status have the highest rates of both new cancers and cancer deaths.

Finally, the economic burden of cancer is taking its toll. As the U.S. population ages and newer technologies and treatments become available, national expenditures for cancer continue to rise and could potentially exceed overall medical care expenditures combined.

We at NCI, along with our Cancer Trends Progress Report partners, hope that you will find this report to be a valuable reference tool and a stimulus for action. We must not forget that the numbers in this report reflect the lives and struggles of millions of our fellow citizens. NCI remains committed to its vital work, on behalf of each one of them.

Harold Varmus, M.D.
Director, National Cancer Institute

National Cancer InstituteDepartment of Health and Human ServicesNational Institutes of

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