Declines in Cancer Deaths Reach Milestone

Facts and Figures Report: Declines in Cancer Deaths Reach Milestone

Article date: January 17, 2013
By Stacy Simon

Annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society shows the death rate from cancer in the US has fallen 20% from its peak in 1991. “Cancer Statistics, 2013,” published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its companion piece “Cancer Facts & Figures 2013,” estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the US this year. The estimates are some of the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world.

A total of 1,660,290 new cancer cases and 580,350 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2013. Between 1990/1991 and 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, overall death rates decreased by 24% in men, 16% in women, and 20% overall. This translates to almost 1.2 million deaths from cancer that were avoided.

More to be done

Death rates continue to decline for lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancers, which are responsible for the most cancer deaths. Since 1991, death rates have decreased by more than 40% for prostate cancer, and by more than 30% for colon cancer, breast cancer in women, and lung cancer in men. The large drop in lung cancer is attributed to reductions in smoking, while the large drop in prostate, colon, and breast, cancer is attributed to improvements in early detection and treatment.

While the rates of new cancer cases are declining for most cancer sites, they are increasing among both men and women for melanoma of the skin, and cancers of the liver and thyroid.

The rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths vary quite a bit among racial and ethnic groups. For all cancer sites combined, African-American men have a 14% higher rate of new cancer cases and a 33% higher death rate than white men. African-American women have a 6% lower rate of new cancer cases, but a 16% higher death rate than white women. However, in the past decade, the most rapid decline in death rates occurred among African-American men (2.4% per year) and Hispanic men (2.3% per year).

The reports call for applying existing knowledge about fighting cancer across all segments of the population, especially groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, as a way to speed progress against cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about one-third of cancer deaths in 2012 will be caused by tobacco use and another one-quarter to one-third will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition.

“In 2009, Americans had a 20% lower risk of death from cancer than they did in 1991, a milestone that shows we truly are creating more birthdays,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “But we must also recognize that not all demographic groups have benefited equally from these gains, particularly those diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer, where earlier detection and better treatments are credited for the improving trends. We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged.”

Special section on pancreatic cancer

Each year, American Cancer Society researchers include a special section in “Cancer Facts & Figures” highlighting an issue of cancer research or care. This year, the topic is pancreatic cancer. A lack of progress in primary prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of pancreatic cancer motivated the authors to address it in this year’s report.

Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in U.S. men and the 9th most common in U.S. women. Over the past decade, pancreatic cancer death rates in the US have been slowly increasing, in contrast to the downward trend in rates for most other major cancer sites, including lung, colon, breast, and prostate. The special section provides updated information on the occurrence and treatment of pancreatic cancer to inform researchers, cancer control advocates, policy makers, and others, and to help focus attention on this cancer.

Cancer Statistics 2013” can be viewed at cacancerjournal.com, while “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012” is available at cancer.org/statistics.

Citations: Cancer Statistics, 2013. Published early online January 17, 2013 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author: Rebecca Siegel, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.
Cancer Facts & Figures 2013. Published online January 17, 2013. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff