For the first time since 1930, the total number of annual cancer deaths has dropped in the USA. In 2003, 556,902 people died of cancer in the USA, the total for 2002 was 557,271, according to figures published by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The greatest contributor to the fall, say experts, is the drop in the number of people in the country who smoke. Another contributor is earlier diagnosis, as well as better treatment.

This is the first drop in the number of total deaths. If calculated as deaths per 100,000 people, rates have been falling by about 1% per year for the last ten years. However, as the US population has been rising fast, it is only now that the fall in total deaths have overtaken the rise in the country's population.

The biggest falls in total deaths were seen in:

-- Lung Cancer
-- Breast Cancer
-- Prostate Cancer
--Colorectal Cancer

These four cancers account for over half of all cancers in the USA.

Cancers and drop in death rates

Breast cancer
Death rate dropping by 2% per year since 1990.

Colon cancer death
Death rates dropping by 2% per year since the mid-1980s.

Prostate cancer
Deaths rates dropping by 4% a year since 1994.

Lung cancer
Death rates dropping by 2% per year since 1991 for men, but has not dropped for women.

In fact, the total number of all cancer deaths among women increased.

Experts say they expect to see total numbers rise again. This is because people are living longer. Cancers tend to develop more in people as they get old - if there are more very old people around, there will be more cancer diagnoses.

As the American population is getting fatter, who knows whether in the medium term this will have an effect on cancer rates and cancer deaths. Obesity raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2, which in turn may raise the risk of developing some cancers.

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today