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For Release:
November 28, 2006

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160

DHSS Report Shows New Jersey's Cancer Survival Rates Significantly Improved; Nearly Four Percent of Population Living with a Previous Cancer Diagnosis


          Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D. today announced that New Jersey’s five-year cancer survival rates have risen significantly in the last two decades, although there remain disparities in survival between the state’s white and black residents. As a result, cancer survivors now make up nearly four percent of the state’s population, according to estimates based on New Jersey State Cancer Registry data.

The new statistics, compiled from the most recent available data, are contained in a new report, Cancer Survival in New Jersey, 1979-1997, the state’s first comprehensive report on changing survival rates over time – and Cancer Prevalence in New Jersey on January 1, 2003 – the first report to estimate the number of cancer survivors living in the state on a certain date.

“Since 1979, there has been extraordinary growth in both our understanding of cancer and our ability to detect and treat many types of the disease,” Commissioner Jacobs said.  “However, cancer remains an enormous scientific, medical and public health challenge.

“It is the second leading cause of death nationwide, and places a significant burden on the nation’s health care system.  Cancer also has a disproportionate impact on our minority communities,” Dr. Jacobs added.

According to Cancer Survival in New Jersey, 1979-1997, people with the most common cancer types -- breast, cervical, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer -- are living longer than they did 20 years ago, contributing to the higher overall survival rate.

Sixty-one percent of New Jersey residents diagnosed with cancer in 1994-1997 survived at least five years, compared with 47 percent in 1979-1983, the report notes.  Survival rates vary greatly by type of cancer, sex, race, age and stage at diagnosis, and are highest when cancer is diagnosed in the early stages.

For example, white men and women had substantially higher survival rates – by about 10 percentage points – than did black men and women.  Similar racial differences in survival are seen in the nation as a whole.  The gap could reflect problems accessing medical care, leading to later diagnosis and less effective treatment, as well as differences in diet, tobacco use or other preventable risk factors.

In general, the state’s survival rates are very similar to the U.S. rates for the diagnosis years 1994-1997, although the nation’s overall survival rate is slightly higher at 64 percent.  The greatest differences between the state and nation in the most recent years were seen in ovarian cancer, where New Jersey’s survival rate is higher, and five types where the rate is lower – cancer of the cervix, mouth, brain, endometrial cancer and melanoma of the skin.

The report is based on survival data on more than 600,000 invasive primary cancers reported to the State Cancer Registry.  The registry covers all New Jersey residents diagnosed with cancer even if they are diagnosed or treated in other states.

The second report released today, Cancer Prevalence in New Jersey on January 1, 2003, uses software developed by the National Cancer Institute to help estimate cancer prevalence – that is, the number of people living with cancer or a previous diagnosis of cancer.  Prevalence data can be used in planning public health programs and in targeting health care resources.

According to the report, nearly 334,000 people living in the state on January 1, 2003 were estimated to have had a cancer diagnosis – about 149,000 men and more than 185,000 women.   This represents 3.9 percent of the total population.

Although the department has published numerous reports on cancer incidence and mortality in New Jersey, this is the first time DHSS has used cancer registry data to assess survival and overall cancer prevalence in the state.

“The high quality of New Jersey State Cancer Registry data makes these reports possible,” Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, Deputy Commissioner and State Epidemiologist.  “Together, these reports suggest that New Jersey residents have access to quality care, which has substantially increased survival rates and the number of cancer survivors in the state.”

The State Cancer Registry has been awarded the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries Gold Standard, the highest standard possible, for nine consecutive years – one of only a few registries to achieve this distinction.

To help reduce racial disparities in cancer, the state provides comprehensive outreach, education and screening services through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection program.  NJCEED targets low-income uninsured and underinsured residents, and offers free breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer screening through 25 agencies statewide.

In addition, both the Healthy New Jersey 2010 health goals and New Jersey’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan identified the need to eliminate racial disparities in cancer incidence and mortality.  The department, through the Office of Cancer Control and Prevention, coordinates statewide and local activities to implement the Cancer Control Plan, which is designed to help reduce the burden of cancer incidence in the state.

 Both reports released today are available on the department web site at

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Report Highlights   

Cancer Survival in New Jersey, 1979-1997:

  • For 1994-1997, white men had a survival rate of 63 percent, compared with 54 percent for black men.
  • During the same time period, white women had a survival rate of 60 percent, compared with 51 percent for black women.
  •  Men had slightly higher survival rates than women (62 percent vs. 60 percent) in 1994-1997.
  •  For cases diagnosed during 1994-1997, New Jersey’s highest survival rates were noted for prostate cancer (98 percent), thyroid cancer (94 percent), female breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma (both at 85 percent).
  • The poorest survival rates were seen in pancreatic cancer (6 percent), liver cancer (7 percent), esophageal cancer (13 percent), and lung cancer (14.5 percent).
  • From 1979-1997, there were significant improvements in overall survival for all four groups discussed in the report – white men, white women, black men and black women.
  • During this period, however, survival rates improved more for men than women and more for whites than blacks.

Cancer Prevalence in New Jersey on January 1, 2003:

  • Seven counties were estimated to have more than 20,000 people previously diagnosed with cancer living there – Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Ocean, Monmouth, Union and Morris.
  • Six counties -- Burlington, Camden, Hudson, Mercer, Passaic, and Somerset -- were estimated to have from 10,000 to 20,000 residents previously diagnosed with cancer.
  • Bergen, Cape May and Ocean counties were estimated to have a higher proportion of cancer survivors in their population than did the state as a whole.
  • Cumberland, Gloucester and Hudson counties were estimated to have a lower proportion of survivors than the state.
  • Cancer prevalence rose dramatically with increasing age.
  • Cancer prevalence in the black population was about half that of the white population.

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