ATLANTA (AP) _ The number of Americans diagnosed annually with cancer will double over the next 50 years, from 1.3 million to 2.6 million, according to a new study that warns of an intense burden on the health care system.
The expected boom reflects a population that will be larger and live longer _ rather than suggesting that cancer itself will become more menacing.
Government and private researchers analyzed census data and applied it to newly compiled cancer statistics to make the projections, which appear Wednesday in the journal Cancer.
The so-called cancer population will get older as it gets larger, according to the study. By 2050, more than 1.1 million people 75 and older will be diagnosed each year, up from about 400,000 today.
The increase in older cancer patients will require more cancer specialists who can treat them, the study warns. There are already shortages in many of those professions.
The figures ``underscore a critical need for expanded and coordinated cancer control efforts to serve an aging population and reduce the burden of cancer in the elderly,'' said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging.
The study is the result of analysis by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
The researchers found a steady decline in the U.S. death rate from all types of cancer in the 1990s. That figure dropped an average of about 1 percent each year from 1993 to 1999, the latest year for which figures are available.
The four major killer cancers _ lung, colorectal, breast and prostate _ accounted for 53 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States from 1995 to 1999, the study found.
Lung cancer was by far the leader, accounting for more than one-fourth of the deaths _ and nearly one-third in men alone. But death rates for all four leading killers fell in the 1990s.
While cancer death rates slowly dropped, the rate of cancer cases overall stabilized in the 1990s after rising in the 1970s and 1980s, the report found.
Using new statistical analysis, the researchers estimated 8.9 million people were living with cancer in the United States at the beginning of 1999. About 60 percent of those were 65 or older.