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Cancer on the decline, but some smokers keep habit a secret Posted: February 1st, 2012

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Cancer death rates fell steadily for nearly every demographic group over a recent 10-year period, resulting in nearly 1 million saved lives, according to data recently released by the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The ACS says nearly 1 million cancer deaths were averted from 1998-2008 as a result of improved survival rates. Only the death rate for Native Americans/Alaska natives remained unchanged.

While lung cancer deaths have declined significantly, a separate study indicates some smokers continue to conceal their habit from their health care providers and may be missing out on needed preventive services.

Half-million cancer deaths projected for 2012

Despite the encouraging numbers, the ACS estimates there will be approximately 1.6 million new cases of cancer in 2012, and that more than 500,000 people will die from the disease during the upcoming year.

The four major cancer sites - lung, colon/rectum, breast and prostate - have all seen decreases in both their incidence and death rates. Lung cancer statistics in particular have improved significantly.

While the incidence of many common cancers has declined, there was a notable increase in several less common types. Pancreatic, esophageal, thyroid and liver cancer are some of the cancers that saw increases from 1998-2008. The reasons behind the increasing prevalence of these cancers are not entirely understood, although it is thought that obesity might be a contributing factor in some cases. Improved diagnostic techniques also may play a role in detecting cancers that would have gone undiagnosed in the past.

Smokers fail to ask health providers for help

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must provide certain cancer preventive services without requiring any co-payment or co-insurance. Since 2010, health insurance coverage has been mandated for breast cancer mammograms for women older than 40, and cervical cancer screenings and colorectal cancer screenings for adults older than 50. In addition, tobacco users are eligible for cessation interventions through their medical insurance.

However, some smokers may be missing the opportunity to take advantage of this benefit and reduce their risk of lung cancer. A survey conducted by Legacy, a nonprofit organization created to discourage tobacco use, found more than one in 10 smokers concealed their smoking habit from their health care provider.

"As an unintended result of higher prices of cigarettes, increased measures to ban smoking in public places and creating smoke-free workplaces, many smokers may feel marginalized and less compelled to discuss smoking with their physicians and other providers," said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of Legacy, in a statement.

The 13 percent of survey respondents who stated they did not disclose their smoking represent approximately 6 million smokers nationwide. Legacy states health care providers can be a critical component to an individual's success in quitting smoking, a habit that has been linked to lung cancer.