Cancer rate heads in right direction

Health care has been on the minds of many Americans this week, and with good reason.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard six hours of arguments on the legailty of the federal health reform act. Americans likely won't learn until June whether the act — or parts of it — can stand, though the justices will know its prognosis by the time they go home for the weekend.

Lost in those political concerns, however, was a report that came out Wednesday from medical groups including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society. Since 1999, the rate of new cancer cases in the United States has declined by a half-percent each year. Also, each year the death rate from cancer has fallen 1.5 percent in grownups and 1.7 percent in children.

“This is good news,” Dr. Marcus Plescia of CDC told the Associated Press. “There has been positive momentum for several years now and that continues.”

Certainly better medical attention, including improved screening procedures and treatments, has played a role in this improvement. Campaigns to cut down smoking have had an impact, with lung cancer death rates in women declining for two consecutive years after men's death rates from that particular cancer have dropped since the 1990s.

Other good news is a decline in the death rates from colon cancer in both men and women, in prostate cancer and in breast cancer. The reports note that the number of new breast cancer cases per year, which had been declining, had leveled off.

There are concerns in the report. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and the researchers believe that factor is contributing to increases of cancers affecting the esophagus, uterus, pancreas and kidneys. Skin cancer and deaths are on the rise as well, with the study's authors suggesting that those numbers are being impacted by the use of tanning beds.

A reduction in the use of tobacco products is paying off with better health. Perhaps that result will serve as inspiration for Americans who could improve their chances against dying too early by restructuring their diets and getting more active, or by reducing their exposure to skin-injuring rays from the sun and tanning beds.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board