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It is estimated that almost 274,000 women will die of cancer in 2006. Lung and bronchus cancer causes 26 percent of cancer deaths among women, while the next most common cause of cancer death is breast cancer, which causes 15 percent of deaths. Colon and rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cancer of the ovaries are also leading causes of cancer death among women. Although lung and bronchus cancer causes the greatest number of deaths, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. This is due to relatively high survival rates for breast cancer and low survival rates for lung and bronchus cancer. For instance, in 1995-2001, the 5-year lung and bronchus cancer survival rates among White and Black women were 17.7 and 15.6 percent, respectively, compared to 89.5 and 75.9 percent for breast cancer.

Cancer is diagnosed in stages, which are based upon how far the cancer has traveled from the original site. Localized cancer is confined to the organ of origin, while regional cancer has extended to the surrounding organs, tissues, or lymph nodes. The most serious stage is distant, which indicates that the cancer has spread to parts of the body remote from the primary tumor. Some cancers are also categorized as unstaged because the information necessary for them to be categorized is not available. The majority of breast cancers that occur among both White and Black women of all ages are localized. However, regional breast cancer occurs more frequently in Black women and younger women of both races than among White women and older women. Distant cancer occurs more frequently in Black women than White women; however, these rates vary little by age for either race. The higher incidence of advanced breast cancer among Black women may be due in part to delayed diagnosis and treatment among this group.

Cancers of the lung and bronchus and of the colon and rectum are the second and third most common types of cancer among women, following breast cancer. The incidence of lung and bronchus cancer among women has increased over the past several decades. In 1975, the rate was 24.9 per 100,000 White women and 24.7 per 100,000 Black women; in 2002 those rates were 52.4 and 59.9, respectively. Diagnoses of colon and rectal cancer have dropped slightly among White women during the same period (from 54.0 to 44.8 per 100,000) while they have remained relatively stable among Black women.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.