Cancer Death Rate in US Declining by 2% Every Year: Report

Patricia McKnight

October 27, 2022

Cancer death rates in the United States continue to follow a downward trend, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. 

From 2015-2019, deaths from cancer have decreased by 2.1% per year in men and women combined. Among men, death rates decreased by 2.3% per year; among women, death rates decreased by 1.9% per year. Cancer mortality rates also declined among adolescents and young adults in every major racial and ethnic group. 

The decline in mortality rates was most significant in lung cancer (at 4%) and melanoma (5%) for both men and women. However, mortality rates increased for cancers of the pancreas, brain, bones and joints among men, and cancers of the pancreas and uterus among women. 

The annual report is a collaborative effort between the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR).

It was published online today in the journal Cancer.

"Today's report is good news in our fight against cancer and is a reminder of the importance of President Biden's Cancer Moonshot initiative," said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.

"I'm deeply impressed by the progress we're making against cancer and firmly believe we can meet the president's goal of reducing the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years," he added.

"Through funding scientific breakthroughs and raising awareness about prevention and early detection, we are making progress against a subset of the more than 200 diseases we call cancer," said Karen E. Knudsen, PhD, MBA, chief executive officer, American Cancer Society.

"However, for certain cancer types, concerning trends persist, and durable cures remain elusive for many people," she said.

Modest Improvements in Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rates 

Although pancreatic cancer is a rare disease accounting only for 3% of new cancer diagnoses, it accounts for 8% of cancer deaths and is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women.

From 2001-2018, incidence rates of pancreatic cancer increased by 1% per year among both men and women, and from 2001-2019, death rates increased by 0.2% per year for both sexes.

There is a spark of hope, however, as the report highlights that there has been an improvement in survival in certain subtypes of pancreatic cancer.

One-year relative survival of people diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors increased from 65.9% to 84.2% between 2001 and 2017, and for people diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinomas, it increased from 24% to 36.7%. Five-year relative survival also increased between 2001 and 2013, from 43.4% to 65.2% for people with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, and from 4.4% to 6.6% for people with pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

"Pancreatic cancer incidence and survival reflect both the underlying risk of disease as well as the difficulty of diagnosing pancreatic cancer at a treatable stage," said Betsy A. Kohler, MPH, NAACCR executive director. "As advancements in screening technology and effective treatments for early-stage disease become available, we are hopeful for greater improvements in pancreatic cancer survival, which historically has been a particularly lethal cancer type."

Increase in Incidence at Common Sites

The report also shows data on cancer incidence rates, which were relatively stable from 2014-2018 in men and women combined. However, while incidence rates for men remained stable, rates for women rose by 0.2% each year. 

During the same time frame, incidence rates for three of the 18 most common cancers among men increased: pancreas, kidney, and testicle. The greatest incidence rate among men was seen in pancreatic cancer, which increased by 1.1% per year, while the steepest decrease in incidence rates was seen in lung cancer, which fell by 2.6% per year.

For women, incidence rates increased for eight of the 18 most common cancers: liver, melanoma, kidney, myeloma, pancreas, breast, oral cavity, and pharynx. The steepest increase in incidence was seen in melanoma (rising by 1.8% per year) whereas thyroid cancer had the sharpest decrease, falling by 2.9% per year.

Cancer. Published online October 27, 2022. Full text

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