ATLANTA - The number of colon cancer deaths could drop dramatically in the next decade because of better screening and treatment, according to an optimistic new prediction by top researchers.
The estimate was made in an annual report showing that, overall, the US cancer death rate is continuing to decline, as it has since the 1990s.
The report, released yesterday, focuses largely on cancers of the colon and rectum, which together are the third-leading cancer killers in the United States. An estimated 50,000 people will die from them this year.
The battle against colorectal cancer has been a growing success story: The death rate dropped roughly 20 percent in the past 10 years, according to American Cancer Society figures.
The report predicts the death rate will drop even more over the next decade, saying that by 2020, it could be half of what it was in 2000.
The prediction assumes colon cancer screening and improved chemotherapy treatment will become more common, and colon cancer contributors like smoking and red meat consumption will decline.
The report was put together by the Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. It is being published in the journal Cancer.
The prediction is “optimistic but realistic,’’ said Elizabeth Ward, who oversees surveillance and health policy at the American Cancer Society. But other specialists said such a large drop would mean that many more people maintain a healthier diet, have health insurance, and get good medical care.
“I think it’s a little bit more optimistic than realistic,’’ said Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.