Published: Fri, January 11, 2019
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

U.S. cancer death rate hits milestone: Twenty-five years of decline

U.S. cancer death rate hits milestone: Twenty-five years of decline

The death rate from cancer in the USA has declined steadily over the past 25 years, according to annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society. For women, declines in incidence have continued for lung cancer, but have tapered in recent years for colorectal cancer, while rates for other common cancers are increasing or stable, e.g., an increase of 0.4% per year for breast cancer. This fact is due in large part to changes in smoking patterns and diet that influence colorectal cancer risk, as well as less access to screening and advanced treatments among disadvantaged populations in these poorer counties. They found the cancer incidence rate was stable in women from 2006 to 2015 and declined about 2 percent per year in men; from 2007 to 2016, the cancer death rate decreased annually by 1.4 and 1.8 percent, respectively. The data come from Cancer Statistics, 2019, the American Cancer Society's widely-quoted annual report on cancer rates and trends.

The latest numbers show the cancer death rate has dropped 27 percent since 1991 - with the lung cancer death rate down almost 50 percent among men over that time.

A World Health Organization report released in September estimated that there were 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2018 alone.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on the latest data, the three leading causes of death in the United States in 2017 were heart disease, cancer and accidents or unintentional injuries. But cancer has been something of a bright spot. For prostate cancer, mortality dropped 51% from 1993 to 2016. People living in the poorest quintile of counties (where roughly 21% to 54% of residents were in extreme poverty) were more likely to die of cancer than those living in richest quintile of counties (where only 1.8% to 10.8% of people were impoverished).

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal "CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians". "This report also highlights our long-standing concerns about the underrepresentation of individuals from lower socioeconomic populations in cancer clinical trials and the access to treatment advances these trials may provide", Bertagnolli said.

Cancer is the second-leading killer in the United States, and it's poised to soon pass heart disease for that top slot. So while the PSA testing may have surfaced cases that didn't actually need treatment, it may also have prevented some cancer deaths, the report suggests.


Meanwhile, some cancers that have been linked to obesity, including liver and pancreatic, showed signs of an increase.

Another is liver cancer. People infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are at greater risk for liver cancer.

But although the racial gap in cancer deaths is slowly narrowing, socioeconomic disparities are growing, she said.

The nation's growing obesity epidemic was first identified as a problem in the 1990s. The rates of death caused by most forms of cancer are declining - especially lung cancers, thanks to public-health efforts that have reduced smoking rates.

Lung cancer death rates declined 48% from 1990 to 2016 among men and 23% from 2002 to 2016 among women. The AP is exclusively responsible for all content.

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