Report: Cancer Mortality Rate Continues to Drop in U.S.

Nearly 2 million deaths averted in 1991–2012

Steady reductions in smoking combined with advances in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment have resulted in a 23% drop in the cancer death rate since its peak in 1991. The drop translates to more than 1.7 million cancer deaths averted through 2012. The new findings are included in Cancer Statistics, 2016, the latest annual report on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The report was published  online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Every year, the ACS estimates new cancer cases and deaths in the U.S. for the current year and compiles the most recent data on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival. The new report estimates that there will be 1,685,210 new cancer cases and 595,690 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2016.

The society reports that the overall cancer incidence was stable in women and declined by 3.1% per year in men from 2009 to 2012, with one-half of the drop in men due to recent rapid declines in prostate cancer diagnoses as prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing decreased.

Cancer mortality continues to drop; over the past decade of data, the rate declined by 1.8% per year in men and by 1.4% per year in women. The drop in cancer death rates during the past two decades was driven by continued decreases in death rates for the four major cancer sites: lung, breast, prostate, and colon/rectum.

Death rates for female breast cancer have declined 36% from peak rates in 1989, whereas deaths from prostate and colorectal cancers have each dropped about 50% from their peak –– a result of improvements in early detection and treatment, according to the ACS. Lung cancer death rates declined 38% between 1990 and 2012 among males and 13% between 2002 and 2012 among females because of reduced tobacco use.

The new report also features an analysis of leading causes of death by state and finds that, even as cancer remains the second leading cause of death nationwide, steep drops in deaths from heart disease have made cancer the leading cause of death in 21 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. In addition, cancer is the leading cause of death among adults 40 to 79 years of age and among both Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders, who together make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. Heart disease remains the top cause of death overall in the U.S. In 2012, there were 599,711 (24%) deaths from heart disease compared with 582,623 (23%) deaths from cancer.

Other findings from the report include the following:

  • Among children and adolescents (from birth to 19 years of age), brain cancer has surpassed leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death, a result of more rapid therapeutic advances against leukemia.
  • Thyroid cancer continues to be the most rapidly increasing cancer (greater than 5% per year in both men and women), partially due to overdiagnosis because of the increased use of advanced imaging techniques.
  • Colorectal cancer incidence and death rates declined by approximately 3% per year in both men and women from 2003 through 2012, with momentum gaining in the most recent years. However, these rates increased by 1.8% per year from 1992 through 2012 in men and women younger than 50 years of age, among whom screening is not recommended for those at average risk.
  • In contrast to stable or declining trends for most cancers, incidence rates increased from 2003 to 2012 among both men and women for some leukemia subtypes and for cancers of the tongue, tonsil, small intestine, liver, pancreas, kidney, renal pelvis, and thyroid.
  • In addition, incidence rates increased in men for melanoma, for myeloma, and for cancers of the breast, testis, and oropharynx. Among women, incidence rates increased for cancers of the anus, vulva, and uterine corpus.
  • Recent declines in the incidence of melanoma and liver cancer among young adults may portend a reduction in the burden of these cancers in future generations.
  • Death rates from cancer have dropped from a peak of 215 per 100,000 in 1991 to 166 in 2012. This decline was greater in men (28% since 1990) than in women (19% since 1991).
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women 20 to 59 years of age, whereas lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women 60 years of age and older. Among men, leukemia is the leading cause of cancer death for those ages 20 to 39 years, whereas lung cancer ranks first among men 40 years of age and older.

 Source: American Cancer Society; January 7, 2015.