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Published: Monday, 10/10/2005

A small step against cancer

Cancer, the dreaded C-word, doesn't always mean death any more. The death rate from all cancers for every ethnic and racial group during a nine-year period dropped 1.1 percent annually, according to a new study.

But as always, there are qualifiers. Not everyone benefits at the same rate.

It's encouraging that there is talk about treating cancer as a chronic, rather than a fatal, disease. Thanks to increased awareness, the overall death rate dropped because cancers are detected early.

More people conduct self examinations and get regular medical exams.

Prevention and improved treatment for cancers are other explanations for the lower overall death rate from cancers from 1993 to 2002. That's the conclusion of a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Unfortunately, there remains a vast disparity in the cancer death rates of black men compared to white men. The overall death rate of black men was 43 percent higher; their overall incidence rate of cancer was 25 percent higher, and that zoomed to 50 percent higher for certain cancers.

It's possible that many black men wait too long to see a doctor, and at that point the disease is in its final stages. Also, many blacks have less access to health care and the delivery of advanced care.

The Journal's report contained other information, too - some of it encouraging and some discouraging. For instance, more cancer patients' treatment is based on the latest expert guidelines. But it's troubling when breast cancer patients have the tumor removed, then forgo follow-up radiation treatments, and when more patients over 65 have colon cancer surgery but skip chemotherapy treatments.

Some other cancer issues also trouble the experts. One is the persistent increase in some cancers among women. Breast, thyroid, melanoma, and lymphoma have been blamed for the 0.3 percent increase in cancers since 1987. While researchers worry about the rise in liver cancer, they suspect that hepatitis infections contribute to it.

People diagnosed with cancer should follow through on advanced treatments. It would help, too, if every racial, ethnic, and economic group had better access to health care.

But that would require a national health care program, which America doesn't have. So the good news must come in small increments.

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