More Albertans appear to be winning the battle against cancer, according to newly-released data.

The data says cancer rates in the province are on a downward trend, and fewer Albertans are being diagnosed with or dying from the disease.

“It’s the trends over time that is exciting. We’re really pleased to see that in the last eight years, the incidence rates for cancer in Alberta have actually been going down steadily over the last eight years,” said Dr. Paul Grundy, the province’s top cancer doctor.

“The mortality rates are actually going down to a greater extent year-by-year. These are moving absolutely in the direction that we would want them, (there’s) less risk of cancer and better survival from cancer.”

The province’s cancer rates have been steadily declining by about one per cent per year between 2002 and 2010.

Mortality rates have also decreased over the past 20 years, falling by 2.8 per cent each year between 2004 and 2010.

Those figures mean a lot to cancer survivor Doug Mohs.

Doctors diagnosed Mohs with an aggressive form of cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma in 1998.

“I remember him saying to me, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Mohs said.

After surgery and several rounds of treatment, Mohs became cancer free.

“It was about January of 2000 that Dr. Belsch basically told me not to come back,” he said with a smile. “That was really good news.”

Prevention, healthier lifestyles, key in decline

Grundy says while doctors can’t say exactly why cancer rates are on the decline, they do have some ideas.

“What we believe is that the reducing instances of cancer is beginning to reflect our efforts at preventing cancer around tobacco control and around our screening programs which not only in some cases detect cancer early, but in other cases actually catch lesions before they become cancer,” Grundy said.

“Around the decreasing mortality rates, I think we quite clearly believe this reflects our successful efforts at better treatment in all aspects of treatment.”

Grundy says the number of Albertans diagnosed or dying from the disease could decrease even more rapidly if Albertans focused on tobacco control, sun safety, weight control and limiting alcohol intake.

“If we all did what we should, we could reduce the incidence of cancer by 30 per cent,” he said.

Because while rates are declining, Grundy believes it’s not declining nearly as much as it should be – or could be.

“Right now, we’re talking about incidence of cancer that’s going down by about 1.7 per cent by year on average… absolutely in the right direction, but is that a big enough increase yet, is that where we want to be? It’s not yet,” he said.

And statistics also suggest approximately one in every two Albertans will develop cancer in their lifetime while one in four Albertans will die from the disease.

'Those are the cards you were dealt'

Still, the stats are encouraging for Mohs.

Fifteen years since his diagnosis, he says he’s grateful for the help he received at the Cross Cancer Institute.

He also says he’s made long-lasting friendships on his journey battling and beating the disease.

For years, Mohs rowed with a team of other cancer survivors to raise money in support of the institute.

“It was an opportunity for me to really repay the Cross for what they did for me,” he said.

Looking back, Mohs said he’s happy he got through it.

“You got to deal with what you’re dealing with. Those are the cards you were dealt,” Mohs said.

“I had no doubt that I would be sitting here 15 years later.”

The new data comes from two reports, the 2010 Report on Cancer Statistics in Alberta and the Annual Cancer Registry Report, updated in 2010, and were released Monday to coincide with World Cancer Day.

Other cancer statistics from the report include:

  • In 2010, there were 15,232 new cases diagnosed in Alberta and 5,526 Albertans died from cancer.
  • Approximately 18,500 cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2015.
  • Cancer accounted for 27 per cent of deaths in Alberta for all ages in 2010.
  • The most commonly diagnosed cancers in the province in 2010 wre breast, prostrate, colorectal and lung cancer.
  • In 2010, 103 children aged 14 and under were diagnosed with cancer in Alberta.

The province is expected to unveil it’s ‘cancer plan’ in the coming months.

The plan will focus on prevention, treatment and work being done to find a cure.

Click here for more information on screening for cancer.

With files from Carmen Leibel