Cancer death rate declining

A piece of good news comes from the American Cancer Society in the ongoing battle against the dreaded "C" word.

"The cancer death rate is decreasing overall for all types of cancer combined since 1991," said Diane Robbins, program manager with the Southwest Division Inc.

Community Organization of the ACS.

"The cancer that appears to be on the increase is lung and that's for women only.

It's decreasing in men as a cause of death."

Prostate is the most common type of cancer among Arizonans, followed by breast and lung cancer, Robbins said.

However, in order of mortality, the top three killers in this state are lung, colorectal and breast cancer.

The 1999 edition of Arizona Health Status and Vital Statistics from the state Department of Health Services concurs with Robbins' information.

Mohave County closely parallels the state numbers.

The report stated 174 deaths occurred from lung cancer in Mohave County in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

There were 31 deaths from colorectal cancer.

Mohave County figures differed from the state with 26 prostate cancer deaths making it No.

3 for 1999, followed by 23 deaths of women from breast cancer.

Deaths from lung, prostate and colorectal cancer in men have declined over the last 10 years, Robbins said.

"More people are dying of lung cancer than any other type because we don't have good early detection methods for it," Robbins said.

"There are cost-effective screening methods for diagnosing breast and prostate cancers, but not for lung cancer."

In the 1960s, the United States Surgeon General determined smoking carried a risk of lung cancer.

At that time, men were longtime cigarette smokers, but smoking was not yet an acceptable fashion among women, Robbins said.

Men heeded the warning and began to cut back on cigarette use.

But when cancer studies began to publish in the late1960s and early 1970s, women refused to give up smoking and mortality statistics now reflect their choice, Robbins said.

Cancer death projections for 2001 for Arizona supplied by Robbins indicate there will be 2,600 deaths from lung cancer this year.

In addition, 900 people will die from colorectal cancer, 700 women from breast cancer, and 600 men from prostate cancer.

Amy Stoll is a cancer epidemiologist with the Arizona Cancer Registry, which is a part of the state Department of Health.

Stoll's work entails gathering statistics from tumor registries at hospitals around the state.

The data contains the age and race of the individual with cancer, how he or she was diagnosed, what treatment is rendered, whether the disease goes into remission or if the patient dies and, if so, from what cause.

"There's just no good way at present to screen for lung cancer," Stoll said.

"By the time a patient exhibits symptoms like coughing up blood or shortness of breath and goes for a chest X-ray a lump may be found and the disease can be in its later stages, too late to effectively treat."

Aside from the four forms of cancer already mentioned, Stoll's office keeps track of other cancers that lead to death.

Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's type lymphomas ranked No.

5 in deaths in the state for 1997, she said.

Pancreatic cancer ranked sixth, followed by ovarian cancer, leukemia, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, and liver cancer at No.

10.

As outdoors activities are a central part of life in Arizona, one might expect skin cancer (melanomas) to rank high.

But that is not the case, failing to make the top 12 in mortality.

"Skin cancer among men ranks No.

5 in terms of the incidence," Stoll said.

"In women, it's No.

7."

The risk of contracting some form of cancer increases with age or if there is a family history of it.

Lifestyle choices are the best way to avoid getting cancer, Stoll said.

Those choices include not smoking, exercising regularly and eating a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables.