WASHINGTON — Death rates from cancer are continuing to inch down, researchers reported Monday.

Now the question is how to hold onto those gains, and do even better, even as the population gets older and fatter, both risks for developing cancer.

"There has been clear progress," said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, which compiled the annual cancer report with government and cancer advocacy groups.

But bad diets, lack of physical activity and obesity together wield "incredible forces against this decline in mortality," Brawley said. He warned that over the next decade, that trio could surpass tobacco as the leading cause of cancer in the U.S.

Overall, deaths from cancer began slowly dropping in the 1990s, and Monday's report shows the trend holding. Among men, cancer death rates dropped by 1.8 percent a year between 2000 and 2009, and by 1.4 percent a year among women. The drops are thanks mostly to gains against some of the leading types – lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers – because of treatment advances and better screening.

The news isn't all good. Deaths still are rising for certain cancer types including liver, pancreatic and, among men, melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer.

Preventing cancer is better than treating it, but when it comes to new cases of cancer, the picture is more complicated.

Cancer incidence is dropping slightly among men, by just over half a percent a year, said the report published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Prostate, lung and colorectal cancers all saw declines.

But for women, earlier drops have leveled off, the report found. That may be due in part to breast cancer. There were decreases in new breast cancer cases about a decade ago, as many women quit using hormone therapy after menopause. Since then, overall breast cancer incidence has plateaued, and rates have increased among black women.

Another problem area: Oral and anal cancers caused by HPV, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, are on the rise among both genders. HPV is better known for causing cervical cancer, and a protective vaccine is available. Government figures show just 32 percent of teen girls have received all three doses, fewer than in Canada, Britain and Australia. The vaccine was recommended for U.S. boys about a year ago.

Among children, overall cancer death rates are dropping by 1.8 percent a year, but incidence is continuing to increase by just over half a percent a year. Brawley said it's not clear why.

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  • Eat Fiber From Whole Grains

    Researchers from Britain and the Netherlands found that the more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/13/fiber-colorectal-cancer-risk-whole-grains_n_1089082.html" target="_hplink">total dietary fiber and cereal fiber</a> people consumed, the lower their colorectal cancer risk. For example, people who consumed an extra 90 grams of whole grains a day also had a 20 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, according to the <em>British Medical Journal</em> review. However, that same study didn't show a link between eating fiber from fruits and vegetables and a lowered colorectal cancer risk, meaning there may be something else in whole grains at work, too.

  • Take Aspirin

    Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that people who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/25/aspirin-bowel-cancer-risk_n_1451209.html" target="_hplink">take aspirin once a day</a> have a 30 percent decreased risk of dying from colorectal cancer, if taken for at least a nine-month period. And, the benefit extended to after a person had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The researchers found that people who had already been diagnosed and who took aspirin had a 23 percent decreased risk of dying from the disease, compared with people who didn't take it at all.

  • Eat Chocolate (Maybe)

    The <em>Daily Mail</em> reported on a study in mice, published in the journal <em>Molecular Nutrition and Food Research</em>, showing that rats exposed to a carcinogen <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2091627/Eating-chocolate-stave-bowel-cancer-say-scientists.html" target="_hplink">developed fewer colon cancer lesions</a> than rats if they consumed high-cocoa diets. "Being exposed to different poisons in the diet like toxins, mutagens and procarcinogens, the intestinal mucus is very susceptible to pathologies," study researcher Maria Angeles Martin Arribas, a researcher at the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition, said <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-01/f-sf-ccp012412.php" target="_hplink">in a statement</a>. "Foods like cocoa, which is rich in polyphenols, seems to play an important role in protecting against disease." However, it's important to note that this effect was tested only on mice.

  • Consume Ginger Root

    Research published in the journal <em>Cancer Prevention Research</em> showed that taking 2 grams of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/10/12/ginger-could-reduce-risk-of-bowel-cancer_n_1006855.html" target="_hplink">ginger root supplement</a> every day might have colon cancer-preventing powers. The researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that taking ginger root supplements helped to minimize signs of inflammation of the colon, which has been connected to colon cancer.

  • Go To A Classical Music-Loving Doctor

    A study from the University of Texas Health Science Center showed that doctors who conduct colonoscopies while <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/10/31/could-mozart-decrease-your-risk-of-colon-cancer/" target="_hplink">listening to Mozart</a> are more likely to find polyps, which can lead to colon cancer, ABC News reported. The study showed that polyp-detection increased to 36.7 percent from 27.16 percent when the doctors listened to Mozart.

  • Exercise Regularly

    A study in the journal <em>Cancer Causes & Control</em> showed that <a href="http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/colon_cancer/exercise-colon-cancer_6153-1.html" target="_hplink">people who exercise</a> or play sports five or more times a week can lower their risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared with those who don't exercise regularly (or at all), Johns Hopkins University reported. <blockquote>Why exercise might reduce colon cancer risk isn't well understood. It may be because exercise enhances the immune system or because it reduces levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factors, all of which have been associated with colon cancer risk.</blockquote>

  • Eat Your Veggies

    A number of studies have linked the <a href="http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/foods/cruciferous/" target="_hplink">consumption of cruciferous vegetables</a> with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, Oregon State University reported, though the effect may depend on a person's genetic risk. In particular, a study published in 2000 in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11117618?dopt=Abstract" target="_hplink">the <em>American Journal of Epidemiology</em></a>, showed that people who ate the most cruciferous veggies in a day (about 58 grams per day, on average) had a lower risk of colon cancer compared with people who ate the fewest cruciferous veggies in a day (about 11 grams per day, on average), Oregon State University reported.

  • Enjoy Some Berries (Maybe)

    A study in mice showed that compounds called anthocyanins, found in <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39971798/ns/health-cancer/t/black-raspberries-prevent-colorectal-cancer-mice/#.T61SE59Ytvc" target="_hplink">black raspberries</a>, seem to have powers at anti-colorectal cancer powers, MyHealthNewsDaily reported. The berries may help to <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39971798/ns/health-cancer/t/black-raspberries-prevent-colorectal-cancer-mice/#.T61SE59Ytvc" target="_hplink">prevent cancer</a> because of their "high antioxidant activity," study researcher Gary Stoner, of the College of Medicine at Ohio State University, told MyHealthNewsDaily; those antioxidants work to fight against DNA-damaging free radicals in the body.

  • How to Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

    The Doctors and USA Weekend share tips for reducing your risk of colorectal cancer.