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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Death rates from cancer fall slightly in Massachusetts

The number of people dying of cancer has fallen slightly in Massachusetts while the number of newly diagnosed cases has stayed about the same. But racial and ethnic disparities remain, in both the risk of developing cancer and dying from it, a new state report says.

The change in mortality rates was small but significant, according to the state Department of Public Healthís latest study, which covers 2000 through 2004.

In 2000, the mortality rate from 24 types of cancer was 205.8 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2004 it declined to 187.9 deaths per 100,000 people. The incidence of new cases declined each year, but the decrease was not statistically significant.

"The report shows that progress is being made. When we focus on prevention, as in reducing tobacco use, or focus on screening for early identification and treatment, we can save lives," DPH Commissioner John Auerbach said in an interview today. "On the other hand, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in Massachusetts and many people are still engaged in behaviors that put them at risk."

Half of all cancers could be avoided if people didnít smoke, adopted a healthy diet, increased their physical activity and cut their alcohol use, DPH said. About 18 percent of people in the state smoke.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in both men and women. The lung cancer death rate fell by 11 percent for men, but for women it stayed the same.

Breast cancer, the most common cancer in women, fell both in new cases (by 7 percent) and in deaths (by 10 percent). Prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men, also dropped in new cases (by 19 percent) and in deaths (by 24 percent).

But racial disparities persist. The incidence of both prostate and liver cancers was higher for black men than for other men. Asian men had the highest liver cancer incidence and mortality.

There were more cases of breast cancer among white women, but both black and white women died at a higher rate than Asian and Hispanic women. Black and Hispanic women had more cases of cervical cancer.

"Not all adults who should be screened for cancer are receiving screening, and certain populations bear a heavier burden of disease, particularly black and Latino people," Auerbach said. "We hope that expanding access through health care reform will be helpful in part to eliminating these disparities."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:14 PM
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