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US Cancer Deaths Have Dropped 27% Over 25 Years

Although cancer is still the second leading cause of death after heart disease for both men and women, its overall lethality has nonetheless diminished steadily and significantly thanks to the progress of research. In its newly released annual report on cancer statistics, the American Cancer Society found that cancer death rates in the United States dropped continuously from 1991 to 2016 by a total of 27%. The authors of the report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, note that this drop translates into "approximately 2,629,200 fewer cancer deaths than would have been expected if death rates had remained at their peak."

The report was compiled using cancer incidence data, available through 2015, from the National Program of Cancer Registries, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. In addition, the report utilized mortality data, available through 2016, from the National Center for Health Statistics. Using this data, the authors of the report project that 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths will occur in the United States during the year 2019.

The researchers found that from 2006 to 2015, the cancer incidence rate remained stable for women; for men, it declined by around 2% annually. Both sexes benefited from a decline in cancer mortality, however: from 2007 to 2016, the cancer death rate declined by 1.4% per year for women and 1.8% per year for men.

"The decline in cancer mortality over the past 2 decades is primarily the result of steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment, which are reflected in the rapid declines for the 4 major cancers (lung, breast, prostate, and colorectum)," the researchers note.

When examining all cancer stages combined, the researchers found that survival was highest for prostate cancer, melanoma of the skin, and female breast cancer at 98%, 92%, and 90%, respectively. It was lowest for pancreatic cancer (9%), liver cancer (18%), esophageal cancer (19%), and lung cancer (19%).

For cancers diagnosed between 2008 and 2014, the 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined was 67% in white patients and 62% in black patients. Black patients had lower survival rates for every cancer type studied except for cancers of the kidney and pancreas, with an absolute difference of 10% or more for many cancers. Nevertheless, the researchers report, the racial gap in cancer mortality is gradually diminishing with time.

However, socioeconomic disparities in mortality are increasing, with the largest inequalities occurring for the most preventable cancers. From 2012 to 2016, mortality rates in the poorest counties were two times higher for cervical cancer and 40% higher for male lung and liver cancers compared with the most prosperous counties.

The study authors conclude, "A broader application of existing cancer control knowledge with an emphasis on disadvantaged groups would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer."

For More Information

Siegel RL, Miller KD & Jemal A (2019). Cancer statistics, 2019. CA Cancer J Clin. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.3322/caac.21551

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