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US Cancer death rates dropping reports American Cancer Society

From 1991 to 2010, the cancer death rate for men and women combined decreased 20%
From 1991 to 2010, the cancer death rate for men and women combined decreased 20%
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

On January 7, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released good news regarding cancer deaths. Its annual report “Cancer Statistics 2014” noted that cancer death rates have steadily declined for the past two decades, equating to a 20%. From 1991 to 2010, the cancer death rate for men and women combined decreased 20% (2010 is the most recent year for which data is available). Each year, the report estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the US.

For 2014 in the US, a total of 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 deaths from cancer are projected. During the most recent five years for which data is available (2006-2010), cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year in men and by 1.4% per year in women. For the past two decades, the combined cancer death rate has been continuously declining—from a peak of 215.1 per 100,000 in 1991 to 171.8 per 100,000 in 2010. This 20% decline equates to approximately 1,340,400 cancer deaths avoided during this time period.

The report describes that the rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths vary markedly between racial and ethnic groups. The largest decrease was found among black men aged 40 to 49 years. Among this group, death rates from 1991 to 2010 have declined more than 50%. Despite this large decrease, however, black men continue to have the highest cancer death rates among all ethnic groups in the US. In contrast, Asian Americans have the lowest rates.

“The progress we are seeing is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” noted John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society, in a statement. He added, “The halving of the risk of cancer death among middle aged black men in just two decades is extraordinary, but it is immediately tempered by the knowledge that death rates are still higher among black men than white men for nearly every major cancer and for all cancers combined.”

The report recommends that, in order to speed progress in cancer prevention and treatment, existing knowledge regarding the fight against cancer should be applied to all segments of the US population, especially to individuals in the lowest socioeconomic bracket.

Currently, lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancers continue to be the most common causes of cancer death; these diseases comprise almost 50% of the total cancer deaths among men and women. More than 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths is due to lung cancer and most of these cancers are the result of smoking. In regard to gender, prostate, lung, and colon cancer will account for about half of all newly diagnosed cancers for men in 2014; prostate cancer alone will account for approximately 1 in 4 cases. For women, the three most common cancers in 2014 will be breast, lung, and colon; these cancers will comprise 50% of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to comprise 29% of all new cancer cases among women.

On a positive note, the rate of newly diagnosed colon cancer has plummeted in recent years. From 2008 through 2010, new colon cancer cases have decreased by more than 4% per year. The ACS attributes this decrease in part to more individuals undergoing colonoscopies, which can prevent cancer through the removal of polyps, which are pre-cancerous growths.

Because fewer Americans currently smoke, the rate of new lung cancer cases has continued to decline. In the mid-1980s, lung cancer incidence rates began declining in men. The decline began among women the late 1990s in women. The report that these differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use: women began smoking in large numbers about 20 years later than men.

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