At the end of each year, the National Cancer Institute updates its Cancer Trends Progress Report, which summarizes our nation's progress in fighting this disease. Since the publication of the Healthy People 2010 targets at the beginning of the millennium by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we've engaged tens of thousands of researchers, spent billions of dollars, and mobilized the political will to regulate many cancer-causing substances—and we have begun to see the benefits.
- Death rates for the four most common cancers—prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal—have continued to decline, as has the rate of cancer incidence. This is wonderful news.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke has declined dramatically in recent years, thanks to workplace policies and state and local smoke-free indoor air legislation.
- Even while progress has been made in some areas, new challenges have cropped up. The incidence of cancer of the liver, pancreas, kidney, esophagus, and thyroid have continued to rise, as have the rates of new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, myeloma, and childhood cancers. Additional research funding has been devoted to finding more effective treatments for these once uncommon forms of cancer, but much work remains to be done.
- In the meantime, it makes sense for Americans to adopt those lifestyle changes that can minimize their risks of developing cancer in the first place—and here we still fall short. For instance, Americans smoke much less than they used to, but they have not come close to achieving the Healthy People 2010 targets.
- Although the percentage of high-school smokers has declined, from almost 40 percent to 23 percent since 1997, this proportion falls short of the Healthy People 2010 target of 16 percent.
- The percentage of adults who smoke has also fallen, but one of every five Americans still uses cigarettes. The national goal is one of eight, or 12 percent.
Another area where individual motivation can reduce the fatalities associated with cancer is early detection. Here Americans are doing well. Although the number of women getting a Pap smear falls short of Healthy People 2010 targets, the rates of mammography and colonoscopy are close to our national goals.
For more information, look for the 2008 update to the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Trends Progress Report, which should be available online at the end of December.