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Cancer stats: gains and losses.

Cancer stats: Gains and losses

The cancer death rate for people under 55 in the United States decreased from 38.2 per 100,000 people in 1975 to 35.7 per 100,000 in 1984, according to the annual National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer statistics update released this week. This 7 percent drop occurred despite a 0.2 percent yearly increase in the incidence rate in this age group between 1975 and 1984, according to the update, which covers incidence and death rates in the U.S. population through 1984 and five-year survival rates through 1983. For white children under 15 (there were not enough cases reported in black children for analysis), the five-year survival rate improved from 54.7 percent to 62.1 percent.

But a rise in the cancer death rate for people 55 and over, who account for about 76 percent of cancers, brought the death rate for the total U.S. population up about 0.5 percent per year since 1975 to 170.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 1984.

Blacks continue to fare worse than whites. The five-year survival rate for whites diagnosed with cancer between 1977 and 1983 was calculated as 49.8; for blacks it was 37.6 percent.

In commenting on the numbers, NCI has focused on the under-55 improvement. NCI head Vincent T. DeVita Jr. attributes the change to advances in treatment.

But statistician John C. Bailar III of Harvard University, a frequent critic of NCI's handling of statistics, says that while there has been substantial progress within subgroups of the population, the overall figures show that general improvement is very slow. The overall five-year survival rate improvement from 48.6 percent of cancers diagnosed between 1974 and 1976 to 48.7 percent of cancers diagnosed between 1977 and 1983 is "nothing to crow about,' he says.

"NCI is very selective in what figures it gives prominence,' he says. "I think it's unfair to the public and unfair to cancer victims and unfair to the news media and Congress to try to cover up the general failure [in the war on cancer] . . . by emphasizing the bright spots.'
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Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 13, 1986
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