Lung cancer still deadliest form in Alberta, study finds

Lung cancer remains the most common cause of cancer death for both men and women in the province, a new Canadian Cancer Society study revealed Wednesday.

Wednesday's annual report on cancer statistics showed out of all cancer diagnoses, lung cancer will account for nearly a quarter of all cancer deaths in Alberta.

It also revealed roughly 16,000 Albertans will be diagnosed with cancer this year and more than 6,000 will die from it.

However, nationwide, death rates for the four major cancers — lung, colorectal, breast and prostate — are declining.

The Canadian Cancer Society says the overall decline is thanks to falling smoking rates and increases in screening and treatment.

"We've seen a big drop in the death rates due to lung cancer in men only," Gillian Bromfield, the group's director of cancer control policy, said in an interview. "So that has been one of the main drivers that has had actually a huge impact on the overall cancer death rate in Canada."

The study also revealed prostate cancer will be the most common cancer in Alberta men in 2012, with 2,500 new cases anticipated this year.

For women, breast cancer remains the most common, with 1,950 new cases anticipated in 2012. It also holds the grim title of being the second-leading cause of cancer death in the province.

The study shows between 1988 and 2007, nearly 100,000 lives have been saved. Over that time span, overall cancer death rates dropped by 21 per cent in men and by nine per cent in women.

About half of cancers can be prevented, said Bromfield. The society advocates for governments to pass policies "to make healthy choices easy choices," she said.

Tobacco use, along with unhealthy eating habits, physical inactivity, excess body weight, alcohol consumption, overexposure to the sun, and exposure to environmental and workplace carcinogens account for a "substantial number" of cancer diagnoses and deaths each year, the group said.

The declines in death rates for other cancers suggested improvements in screening, such as the fecal occult blood test for colorectal cancer, Pap test for cervical cancer and improvements in type and uptake of screening for breast cancer, are paying off, the group said.

"The trends call for an enhancement of primary prevention efforts; a sustained focus on screening for breast, colorectal and cervical cancers; more emphasis on early detection measures and public education on the early signs of cancer; and improved treatment options and health promotion," the report's authors concluded.

Health officials want the progress of anti-tobacco campaigns to continue to drive down smoking rates as fast as possible.

Along with the declines, the incidence of rare cancers, such as liver, thyroid and kidney, are on the rise.

Obesity is thought be driving up both liver and kidney cancers. Immigration from countries where hepatitis B and C virus infections are more common, as well as alcohol abuse, contribute to liver cancer.

Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing form of the disease. More frequent use of diagnostic testing that may be detecting earlier stage, asymptomatic thyroid cancers could be behind the higher incidence, the society said.

An estimated 186,400 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Canada this year and an estimated 75,700 people will die from the malignancy.

The report was released with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada.

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