ATLANTA — Colon cancer deaths could drop dramatically in the next decade because of better screening and treatment, according to an optimistic new prediction by top researchers.
The estimate was made in an annual report that shows that, overall, the U.S. cancer death rate is continuing to decline, as it has since the 1990s.
The report released Monday focuses largely on cancers of the colon and rectum, which together are the third leading cancer killer in the United States. An estimated 50,000 people will die from it this year.
The fight against colorectal cancer is a growing success story: The death rate dropped roughly 20 percent in the last 10 years, according to American Cancer Society figures.
The new report — by researchers at the advocacy group and other organizations — predicts that death rate will drop even more over the next decade. By 2020, the rate could be half what it was in 2000, they said.
The prediction assumes colon cancer screening and improved chemotherapy treatment will become more and more common, and colon cancer contributors like smoking and red meat consumption will decline.
The prediction is "optimistic but realistic," said Elizabeth Ward, who oversees surveillance and health policy at the American Cancer Society. But some other experts said such a large drop could require far-reaching changes in how many people eat a healthier diet, have health insurance and can get good medical care.
"I think it's a little bit more optimistic than realistic," said Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The new report, put together by the Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and published in the journal Cancer, looks at cancer trends from 1975 through 2006. The Cancer Society and others reported 2006 cancer death statistics in May, but this report provides further analysis and adds the predictions about colorectal cancer.
Cancer is the nation's No. 2 killer, behind heart disease, and accounts for nearly a quarter of annual deaths.