A new report says the most preventable cancer – lung cancer – continues to be the top cancer killer among men and women in Canada, but overall cancer death among Canadians has declined.

That's due in part to improved cancer survival through advancements in treatments, better screening and prevention measures.

"We have had improvements in treatment and more effective treatments, more people surviving their cancers," said Paul Grundy, senior medical director of cancer care with Alberta Health Services.

"We also have people being diagnosed earlier in the stage of the disease through more effective screening efforts in some of the diseases which results in cancers being diagnosed at an earlier and more curable stage."

The report by the Canadian Cancer Society says cancer deaths in men have gone down by 21 per cent over the past two decades while rates in woman have decreased by nine per cent. However the number of women dying from the lung cancer in particular, is on the rise.

The report says that much of that is due to the fact that women started to quit smoking later than men.

"Smoking rates peaked for men in the 1960s and smoking rates for women peaked in the 80s," said Angeline Webb with the Canadian Cancer Society.

"Because it takes about 20 years for lung cancer to show up, lung cancer for women has not yet peaked because smoking rates peak later. What that means is that women are now just going up the curve of lung cancer when men are on the other side going down."

But while lung cancer mortality rates for women is on the rise nationally, numbers are a bit more encouraging in Alberta.

Last year, 830 women died of lung cancer. This year that number is expected to drop to 720.

Webb says that's a result of prevention programs and a more comprehensive approach to tobacco control.

"That has to do with policy measures such as smoke-free work places and keeping kids out of the market," she said.

Smoking causes 85 per cent of all lung cancer cases. It's predicted more than 20,000 will die of the disease this year, including nearly 1,500 Albertans.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • An estimated 186,400 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Canada in 2012.
  • An estimated 75,700 Canadians will die in 2012.
  • Incidence and mortality rates are higher in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
  • They are lowest in British Columbia.
  • 69 per cent of new cases and 62 per cent of cancer deaths are occurring among Canadians aged 50 – 79.
  • New cancer cases are due mainly to a growing and aging population.

Prostate cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian men but deaths as a result of the cancer has declined, the report says.

Deaths as a result of breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women, has also been on the decline. According to the report, the breast cancer death rate is the lowest it's been in Canada since 1950.

With files from Carmen Leibel.