Overall cancer death rates in the U.S. have been steadily declining, according to latest data gathered from The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.

The report, which analyzed the number of deaths caused by cancer from 1975-2009, has shed light on the extent of the country’s success in its battle against cancer.

While the death rates associated with the most common cancer sites (lung, colon and rectum, female breast, and prostate) has decreased, the report revealed that during the past decade the number of deaths associated with cancers of the liver, pancreas, uterus, and skin (only among men) has actually increased.

From 2000 to 2009, cancer deaths have dropped by around 1.8% a year among men, 1.4% among women and 1.8% among children under the age of 14. This decrease indicates progress is indeed being made, yet it is still somewhat disheartening to some, especially considering the sheer amount of research, time and money spent exploring and finding ways to prevent and treat cancers.

Among men, the number of deaths over the past decade has decreased for 10 of the most common cancers: kidney, lung, prostate, colon, leukemia, myeloma, larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, stomach, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The only increase was found among those with cancers of the skin, the liver, and the pancreas.

Over the same period the number of deaths among women have decreased for 15 of the most common cancers: lung, stomach, cervix, gallbladder, bladder, oral cavity and pharynx, brain, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colon and rectum, breast, kidney, and myeloma. An increase was found in the number of deaths associated with cancers of the uterus, live and pancreas.

One of the main reasons for the decrease in cancer deaths in recent years is because of the significant drop in the number of smokers.

According to John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society:

“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer. The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”

The trend of cancer incidence is somewhat different though. Although the incidence of cancer decreased by 0.6% a year from 2000 to 2009 among men, in women it scarcely changed and it actually increased by 0.6 percent among children. Experts aren’t entirely sure why the incidence of cancer is increasing among children, they suggest it could have something to do with them now having more access to a doctor than in the past, resulting in more diagnoses.

A previous study revealed that despite there being an increase in survival rate, the number of people in the U.S. who have gone to preventative screening has actually gone down in the last ten years.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., said:

“While this report shows that we are making progress in the fight against cancer on some fronts, we still have much work to do, particularly when it comes to preventing cancer. For example, vaccinating against HPV can prevent cervical cancer, but, tragically, far too many girls are growing into adulthood vulnerable to cervical cancer because they are not vaccinated.”

Over the last decade the number of cases of HPV-associated cancers has increased among white men and women. HPV is one of the leading causes of cancers of the mouth, throat, anus, vulva, and uterine cervix.

Researchers believe that in order to tackle this problem more research is going to be necessary to develop efficient and safe vaccines against HPV. The HPV vaccine has been shown to provide exceptional protection against developing cervical cancer.

NCI Director Harold Varmus, M.D., said:

“This year’s Report correctly and usefully emphasizes the importance of HPV infection as a cause of the growing number of cancers of the mouth and throat, the anus, and the vulva, as well as cancers of the uterine cervix, and the availability of vaccines against the major cancer-causing strains of HPV. But the investments we have made in HPV research to establish these relationships and to develop effective and safe vaccines against HPV will have the expected payoffs only if vaccination rates for girls and boys improve markedly.”

Only 48.7 percent of teenage girls aged 13 to 17 have been given at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, with only 32 percent receiving the full three recommended doses. To fully tackle the problem, the authors suggest improving awareness of the recommended doses.

The report appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and was carried out by a team of researchers from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).

Written by Joseph Nordqvist