Cancer Rates Have Declined for the Last 25 Years

The news is mostly good on the front lines of the second leading cause of death in the U.S.

Though socioeconomic disparities persist, overall the rate of cancer in the U.S. has declined for the last 25 years, according to a study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The cancer death rate peaked in 1991 at 215.1 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2016, it was 156 per 100,000 people, representing an overall decline of 27%. That’s 2.6 million fewer deaths if the rate had remained unchanged since 1991. 

Rebecca Siegel, first author of the study and strategic director of surveillance information at the American Cancer Society, tells CNN that the “continued decline in the cancer death rate over the past 25 years is really good news and was a little bit of a surprise, only because the other leading causes of death in the U.S. are starting to flatten. So we’ve been wondering if that’s going to happen for cancer as well, but so far it hasn’t.”

Racial disparities still exist, but the news is even better on that front as well. The cancer death rate for blacks in the mid-1990s was 33% higher than it was for whites; now it’s 14% higher. That’s not parity, but at least it’s progress.  

However, the study states: “Although the racial gap in cancer mortality is slowly narrowing, socioeconomic inequalities are widening, with the most notable gaps for the most preventable cancers. For example, compared with the most affluent counties, mortality rates in the poorest counties were 2‐fold higher for cervical cancer and 40% higher for male lung and liver cancers during 2012‐2016.”