NATION/WORLD The Michigan Daily - Thursday, November 14, 1996-OA
*Studies show cancer deaths decline for first time in history
The Washington Post
For the first time in U.S. history, cancer death
rates have begun to decline steadily, according to
two new studies, and the trend may be accelerat-
ing. As a result, leading experts predicted yes-
terday, mortality rates from all forms of cancer
could decrease by 15 percent to 50 percent with-
in the next 20 years.
The cancer mortality rate - the percentage of
the U.S. population that dies from cancer each
year - peaked at the beginning of this decade
after increasing every year since the 1930s,
when nationwide records were first collected
systematically, researchers found. Beginning in
1991, the cancer mortality rate has dropped
annually from a 1990 high of about 135 deaths a
year per 100,000 people to 130.8 per 100,000 in
That does not necessarily mean that the total
number of Americans dying of cancer will
diminish in the near future. That's because the
size of the U.S. population is increasing and the
elderly - who are more prone to many cancers
- make up an ever larger proportion of society.
In addition, the incidence of cancer - the num-
ber of people being diagnosed with cancer -
has continued to increase slightly, for reasons
that are largely unknown.
Nonetheless, in the short term, the fall in the
death rate means that at least 12,000 and possi-
bly as many as 16,000 Americans will survive
cancer this year who would have died if the rates
were the same as they were in 1990, according
to Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer of the
American Cancer Society.
Experts attributed the dropping mortality rate
in large part to the decrease in smoking,
although a drop in drinking, exposure to the sun,
and exposures to chemicals in the workplace
also played a role. In addition, improved early-
detection methods and new medical treatments
have improved cancer survival rates, they said.
The new findings arise from two independent
but complementary- studies by academic
researchers and staff of the National Cancer
Philip Cole and Brad Rodu of the University
of Alabama at Birmingham, whose analysis is
being published in the Nov. 15 issue of the ACS
journal Cancer, conclude that total mortality
rates from all forms of cancer hit a plateau in
1990, and fell by about 3.1 percent from 1990 to
1995. That means a drop in death rates of about
4.2 cases per hundred thousand person-years -
about 40 percent of which, they determined, is
attributable to decreases in lung cancer fatality.
Cole and Rodu based their conclusions on
examination of three nationwide data sets: the
federal government's Vital Statistics of the
United States; the Center for Disease Control
and Prevention's monthly mortality reports; and
fatality information from NCI's broad-based
national surveillance program.
While Cole and Rodu were preparing their
report, NCI researchers involved in a separate
review of national cancer fatality figures were
coming to a similar conclusion. NCI's final
report is due in 1997. But in a summary released
yesterday, NCI stated that it, too, had discerned
an approximately 3-percent drop in death rates
from 1990 to 1995.
Most of it, the summary said, "is due to
declines in lung, colorectal and prostate cancer
deaths in men, and breast, colorectal and gyne-
cologic cancer deaths in women."
Panel vetoes independent Gulf probe
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - A White House
advisory panel yesterday decided not to
call for an independent probe of possi-
ble exposure to chemical weapons by
Persian Gulf War veterans, although it
concluded that the Pentagon "did not act
in good faith" in investigating the issue.
Instead, the 12-member panel,
known as the Presidential Advisory
Committee on Gulf War Veterans'
Illnesses, agreed to a Defense
Department plan that would enable the
Pentagon to continue investigating such
cases on its own, but under the "over-
sight"of an outside body.
The committee did not specify which
outside agency should provide the over-
sight. Although some members favored
*asking the National Academy of
Sciences or the U.S. Institute of
Medicine to take on the job, the panel
decided to leave the choice up to the
Although the committee's decision is
another4 blow to the Pentagon's credibil-
ity on the Gulf war issue, it permits the
department to save face by continuing
to retain control over the investigation.
The advisory panel is scheduled to
issue a formal report in late December.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has sharply
expanded its investigative team and
pledged to probe "dozens"of incidents
of possible chemical exposure.
The move represents a major change
from the panel's previous posture. A
preliminary report drafted by the com-
mittee staff had suggested wresting
away the investigation from the
K Department of Defense and turning it
over to an independent body.
The Pentagon argued that would be
impractical. Deputy Defense Secretary
John White, who addressed the com-
mittee yesterday morning, pledged that
the department would adopt as many of
the committee's recommendations on
Gulf war illness as it possibly could.
"My personal view is that the stan-
dard for acceptance should be that if the
committee has suggested a good idea,
we will pursue effective ways to imple-
ment the recommendations," he said.
Panel members also made it clear
that while they have been sharply criti-
cal of the Pentagon's performance on
the Gulf war issue in the past, they were
impressed with its more recent efforts
to step up the search for possible expo-
sureby U.S. troops.
"I think what we heard this morning
was as constructive and forthcoming as
we could hope," said panel member John
Baldeschwiler, a chemistry professor at
the California Institute of Technology.
Baldeschwiler is one of several scientists
and physicians on the committee.
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