The cancer death rate in the USA continues to go down, according to a new report and the rate at which new cancers are diagnosed -- also appears to be dropping.

The report, which is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is compiled by the American Cancer Society, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. It notes that cancer death rates for both sexes combined declined about 1.8% per year from 2002 through 2005, almost double the decrease seen from 1993 to 2002.

Also, for the first time in the ten years since records have been compiled, incidence rates for all cancers combined were down, falling by 0.8% per year from 1999 to 2005. The decline “is something we've been waiting to see for a long time," said Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the ACS. However, he noted that “we have to be somewhat cautious about how we interpret it, because changes in incidence can be caused not only by reductions in risk factors for cancer, but also by changes in screening practices”.

Nevertheless, he added that “the continuing drop in mortality is evidence once again of real progress made against cancer, reflecting real gains in prevention, early detection, and treatment”.

Cancer death rates declined for 10 of the 15 most common causes of cancer death among both men and women, but increased for a few individual cancers, such as oesophageal and bladder cancers among men, pancreatic cancers in women, and for cancers of the liver in both.

The report also shows significant differences in lung cancer deaths in different parts of the USA. In California, the lung cancer death rate dropped by about 2.8% per year among men between 1996 and 2005, more than double the rate seen in some Midwestern and Southern states.

The authors of the report concluded by saying that although the news from the new report is encouraging, more could be done to reduce cancer deaths even further. They note that there are still differences among ethnic and racial groups and there needs to be “more research into better methods of prevention, early detection and treatment”.