Cancer Deaths Continue to Fall in US: 22% Drop in 20 Years

Zosia Chustecka

December 31, 2014

Deaths from cancer continue to fall in the United States, and the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that the 22% drop in cancer mortality seen during the last 2 decades has resulted in more than 1.5 million cancer deaths being avoided in those years.

However, the burden continues to be substantial: the ACS estimates that 589,430 Americans will die from cancer in 2015, corresponding to about 1600 deaths per day.

The figures come from the ACS's annual report on cancer statistics, scheduled to be published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians early in 2015. For now, the ACS has highlighted a few points form the report in a press release.

For most of the 20th century, the overall cancer death rate was rising, reaching a peak in 1991. This was driven largely driven by rapid increases in lung cancer deaths among men as a consequence of the tobacco epidemic, the ACS explains.

Since the 1991 peak, cancer mortality has been falling in the United States, and the steady decline is the result of fewer Americans smoking, as well as advances in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment, the society comments.

Lung cancer death rates declined 36% between 1990 and 2011 among males and by 11% between 2002 and 2011 among females as a result of reduced tobacco use, the ACS points out.

However, lung cancer continues to be the most common cause of cancer death, accounting for more than one quarter (27%) of all cancer mortality. The next most common cause of cancer death is prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women, and the third most common cause of cancer death is colorectal cancer in both sexes.

Although cancer deaths for the nation as a whole are falling, there is a large geographical variation between various states, with the states in the South generally showing the smallest decline (a fall of about 15% between 1991 and 2011) and those in the Northeast showing the largest decline (falls of 25% to 30% for Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Delaware).

"The continuing drops we're seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the ACS. "Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79, and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years. The change may be inevitable, but we can still lessen cancer's deadly impact by making sure as many Americans as possible have access to the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat cancer."

"Cancer Facts & Figures 2015." ACS. Published online 2015.


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