US Cancer Mortality Down by 20%, More for Major Cancers

Zosia Chustecka

January 18, 2013

Overall cancer mortality is declining in the United States. Data just released by the American Cancer Society (ACS) show that overall cancer deaths have declined by 20% since their peak in 1991. The decreases are even greater in lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.

The data indicate that in 2009 alone, around 1.2 million deaths from cancer were avoided, according to an ACS press release.

"We truly are creating more birthdays," said John Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the ACS, which bills itself as the Official Sponsor of Birthdays.

"But we must also recognize that not all demographic groups have benefited equally from these gains," he said. "We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged."

The latest figures are compiled in 2 reports released by the ACS. One was published on the ACS Web site as Cancer Facts & Figures 2013; the other was published online January 17 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The data come from the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the second time in a few weeks that a major report has highlighted falling cancer mortality rates in the United States. Earlier this month, the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer reported that cancer deaths continue to fall. At the time, Dr. Seffrin noted that "the continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past 2 decades is reason to cheer," although he and others emphasized that there is still much work to be done. That report highlighted the growing incidence of cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV) and the potential for prevention with HPV vaccines.

The new reports highlight pancreatic cancer, for which death rates have been increasing. In Cancer Facts & Figures 2013, Rebecca Siegel, MPH, and Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, from Surveillance and Health Services Research at the ACS, note that pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer, and most patients die within a year of diagnosis. "The lack of progress in primary prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment underscores the need for additional efforts in pancreatic cancer research, and has motivated us to address this disease," they write.

Declines in All Major Cancer Sites

The reports note that cancer deaths rates have fallen from 1991 (their peak) to 2009 (the most recent figures available), decreasing from 215.1 to 173.1 per 100,000.

The greatest decreases in cancer deaths were seen in the 4 major cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer. These 4 cancers account for almost half of the total cancer deaths, but lung cancer is the worst. It is expected to account for 26% of all female cancer deaths and 28% of all male cancer deaths in 2013, the reports note.

Over the past 2 decades, prostate cancer deaths have fallen by 40%, and deaths from colorectal cancer, breast cancer in women, and lung cancer in men have fallen by 30%.

"These large drops are primarily due to reductions in smoking for lung cancer, and to improvements in early detection and treatment for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers," the authors note.