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The Takeaway: U.S. Cancer Deaths Down-But Melanoma, HPV-Related Cancers Up in Older Adults

A bright spot of health news (for a change): Overall cancer deaths in the United States are down, driven by steep declines in fatal cases of lung and breast cancer. The latest data, released by the American Cancer Society yesterday, shows a continuance of declining cancer death rates that began in the early 1990s. Prostate and colon cancer deaths have also dropped.

Unfortunately-it couldn't all be good news, could it?-deaths from other, more rare forms of cancer are up. Cancers on the rise include pancreas, liver, and kidney cancers-increases which may be explained by rising obesity rates, researchers say. Melanoma of the skin, thyroid cancer and throat and mouth (or 'oropharyngeal') cancers are also up.

Researchers blame much of the increase in oropharyngeal cancers on  human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Think that doesn't apply to you? Think again- the steepest increase in HPV-related cancers occurred in people aged 54-64. This age group also saw the steepest increase in liver cancer. And adults 65+ saw the greatest rise in melanoma of the skin. The researchers note:

... for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in men and thyroid cancer in women, incidence rates were higher in those aged 55 to 64 years than in those aged 65 years and older.

The reasons for these increasing trends aren't known.

China's 'Demographic Tsunami:' A wave of Chinese seniors have nowhere to go, Bloomberg News reports. The country's 'demographic tsunami' means many citizens-like Wang Fuchuan, 90-consider themselves lucky to even have a place to live. The Beijing hospice where Fuchuan stays may have a broken heater, bad food and cockroaches. But "a lot of people my age can't afford to be here," he said.

According to the World Bank, China's elder-care institutions (nursing homes, hospices, etc.) have room for just 1.6 percent of its older population. A 2009 survey of 140 nursing homes found fewer than a third employed a doctor or a nurse.

China has no equivalent to Medicare or Social Security. And the government's latest five-year plan still gives families primary responsibility for elder care. But the "whole multigenerational housing model has disappeared," said Harvard professor Joseph J. Christian.

For many young Chinese, the ancient tradition of xiao shun, or filial piety-calling for them to care for their parents in old age out of duty and respect-conflicts with modern goals of separate personal and professional lives. "For thousands of years, filial piety was China's Medicare, Social Security and long-term care, all woven into a single family value," AARP's Dan Levin writes. "Today ... China's families and government are scrambling to find new ways to provide for their elderly."

Thursday Quick Hits: 

  • Lose weight ... at sea? Cruise ships are known for the indulgences they offer, but there are plenty of ways to burn calories-from climbing walls to yoga classes to table tennis-aboard certain ships.

Photo:  Fotosearch/Getty Images

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