The American Cancer Society predicts cancer rates will continue a slight decline nationwide in 2014 because fewer people are smoking, more cases are being detected early and prevention measures are working.
In Douglas County, however, cancer rates have not shown a similar decline.
A cancer society annual report, “Cancer Statistics, 2014,” released last week projects about 585,720 Americans will die this year from cancer, 7,940 of them in Oregon.
The report states that cancer rates declined slightly among men and stayed the same among women between 2006 and 2010, the last time period for which statistics are available. Death rates also declined.
The number of cancer cases reported in Douglas County changed little over the same time frame. In 2010, 699 county residents were diagnosed with cancer, according to the Oregon State Cancer Registry. This was slightly more than the 683 who were diagnosed in 2006. The registry did not provide county statistics on deaths, but shows the statewide cancer death rate remained virtually the same over the same time period.
Roseburg oncologist Randy Moore said an increase in older residents and the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles are the most significant contributors to Douglas County cancer rates.
“Our general health in this county is just not good. It’s a national problem, but it’s a local problem too. We eat too much, we eat the wrong foods, we’re gaining weight and we’re getting old,” Moore said.
According to the cancer society report, risk of cancer increases with age. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed for women and prostate cancer for men, but lung cancer is the biggest killer.
The report says most lung cancers are a result of the “lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic” — a problem that has been slowest to disappear among older women. Smoking rates among men began declining in the mid-1980s, but women’s smoking rates did not begin to subside until the late 1990s.
In 2006, 495 of every 100,000 Oregonians were diagnosed with cancer. By 2010 the number had risen to 498. This year, the cancer society predicts a slight decline, to 462. That puts Oregon just below the national rate.
In 2013, Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg reported diagnosing 327 cancers. Moore said it’s impossible to tell how many county residents obtain diagnoses out of town, but Mercy’s percentages by type are similar to those at the national level. They include 14 percent lung, 21 percent breast and 16 percent prostate cancers.
While cancer rates per 100,000 people are declining, the number of people with cancer continues to rise. Moore said that’s due to the aging of America.
“One of the unmodifiable risks for cancer is age, and our population is getting older,” Moore said.
Smoking is another important factor and a particular problem for Douglas County, which has one of the highest smoking rates in the state. Twenty-six percent of Douglas County adults smoke, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The cancer society reports that one quarter of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, Douglas County ranked significantly higher than the state average for tobacco-related cancers. An average of 76 of 100,000 Douglas County residents were diagnosed with smoking-related lung cancer each year between 2002 and 2007.
Smoking during pregnancy has decreased in Oregon but is still close to 12 percent.
Douglas County Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Carter said the prevalence of smoking among pregnant women is tied to the fact that most began smoking when they were much younger.
“They didn’t start smoking just before they got pregnant. They started smoking in fifth grade and they are fairly addicted before they get to the age of childbearing,” Carter said.
She also expressed concern about the popularity among youth of electronic, or “e-cigarettes,” which deliver addictive nicotine without the smoke. The cancer society says that in the short term e-cigarettes can cause lung changes like those of regular cigarettes, but the long-term health effects are unknown.
Moore said the good news is that nationwide, more patients are surviving cancer. The cancer society reported in 2010 that the survival rate was 50 percent in the 1970s. Now 68 percent are still alive five years later.
“The message I would like to get across, and we don’t do a good enough job getting this message out, is the chance of surviving cancer is improving and the quality of life is improved,” Moore said.
Many types of cancer are now being thought of as chronic diseases from which recovery is likely, he said.
Early detection is key. People between the ages of 50 and 75 should be screened regularly for common cancers, Moore said. He said advancements in genetic testing of cancer cells show promise for future diagnoses of breast, prostate and lung cancers.
He said that is particularly good news in the case of lung cancer, which has poorer survival rates than other types of cancer.
The number of cancer deaths should make us pause and think about our lifestyles, Moore said.
“There are still 1,600 people a day in the United States dying from cancer, so enjoy your life but be sensible,” Moore said.
Moore said when the goal is cancer prevention, being sensible means four things: have an active lifestyle, eat a heart-healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and “if you do smoke, stop.”
He encourages making changes that are modest enough people will follow through.
“You don’t want to get into it for a week and then stop,” he said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.