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Health & medicine in brief

Cancer deaths level off after years of decline

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 3, 2003

WASHINGTON - Cancer deaths might be leveling off after several years of decline, and many states are lagging in proven methods to fight the most common tumors, says the nation's annual report on cancer.

Sixteen states spend less than $1 per person on tobacco control, far less than the $5 to $10 per person recommended, even though smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, the nation's top cancer killer. Screening for breast and colorectal cancer varies widely, too.

And there's a widening racial gap as white Americans increasingly survive certain tumors better than blacks, says the report published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"The progress against cancer continues to be mixed," said co-author Dr. Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society.

Instead of awaiting the next anticancer discovery, the report shows states how to better target programs proven to save lives but that are not being offered equally across the country, he said.

"There are substantial opportunities in applying what we already know," Thun said. Yet "because of the state budget crises, programs like tobacco-control programs are being cut at a critical time, when there's terrific opportunity for progress."

The Florida Legislature this year cut the budget for the state's antismoking campaign from $39-million to $1-million, although an angry Gov. Jeb Bush said he would push for it to be refunded next year.

The report's overarching finding is somewhat sobering: Death rates for all cancers had been inching down by about 1.4 percent a year through the mid 1990s, but by 2000 that decline seems to have leveled off.

At least part of that is because of a statistical quirk - a change in how cancer deaths are recorded that mean fewer were being missed in national counts starting in 1999.

Still, "we're seeing perhaps a slowing of the decline," said Brenda Edwards of the National Cancer Institute.

An estimated 556,500 Americans will die of cancer this year, and 1.3-million will be diagnosed with it.

Death rates for the four most common cancers - lung, breast, prostate and colorectal - are declining for all but one group, women with lung cancer. Lung cancer deaths are increasing by just less than 1 percent a year among white and black women.

Most striking are the racial disparities. By 2000, death rates for whites were substantially lower than those for blacks, particularly among breast and colorectal cancer patients, where the gap appeared to have been widening.

By 2010, the government wants no more than 12 percent of the population to smoke. Utah is closest to that goal, with 13.3 percent of adults who smoke and with the fewest deaths from lung cancer. The worst state for smoking is Kentucky, where 30.9 percent of adults light up and the lung cancer death rate is the nation's highest. In Florida, 22.4 percent of adults smoke.

Experts warn SARS might re-emerge this fall

WASHINGTON - SARS could re-emerge this fall as cold temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere allow respiratory illnesses to spread, international health experts and U.S. intelligence officials say.

Unlike this year's outbreak, the next time the disease could take hold in countries without adequate public health systems, says a report by the National Intelligence Council, which comprises senior analysts who report to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.

"The wave of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has been overcome, but SARS has not been eradicated," says the report, prepared by Karen Monaghan, acting national intelligence officer for economics and global issues.

The World Health Organization, the U.N.'s health agency, fears the disease could become seasonal. It urged medical authorities worldwide on Tuesday to launch an influenza vaccination campaign, saying it would help stop confusion in future outbreaks of SARS.

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