U.S. Cancer Deaths Continue Decline With Sharpest 1-Year Drop, New Data Says

The 26-year decline in overall U.S. cancer deaths registered a record single-year drop of 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to new data released by the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The overall death rate from cancer in the U.S. declined by 29 percent from 1991 to 2017, says the ACS in its just-released annual statistics. The decline in deaths from lung cancer was the primary driver. Lung cancer death rates decreased by 51 percent from 1991 to 2017 among men, and 26 percent among women.

The overall decline resulted in an estimated 3 million avoided deaths, the ACS says.

Declining smoking rates and advances in early detection and treatment were the primary reasons for the reduction in deaths from lung cancer. Deaths fell from a rate of about 3 percent per year from 2008 through 2013 to 5 percent per year from 2013 through 2017 in men, and from 2 percent to almost 4 percent per year in women.

Nonetheless, lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death. Almost one-quarter of all cancer deaths are from lung cancer — that’s more than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.

Additionally, e-cigarettes or vaping devices are increasingly being used by teenagers and young adults. These vape devices can increase the potency of the nicotine, one of the most addictive chemicals, delivered to the lungs of the user. A definitive link between vaping products and cancer has yet to be established because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just a few years.

“Before anyone considers using any sort of tobacco or vape product, they should know that they both present significant health risks,” says Mark Dylewski, M.D., chief of general thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute.

The ACS adds that the “steepest declines in cancer deaths occurred for melanoma skin cancer, due in part to the immunotherapy drugs … which the FDA approved in 2011.” The overall melanoma death rate decline by 7 percent per year during 2013-2017 in people ages 20 to 64, 1 percent per year in people ages 50 to 64, and 5 percent to 6 percent in people 65 and older.

“The accelerated drops in lung cancer mortality as well as in melanoma that we’re seeing are likely due at least in part to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy,” said William G. Cance, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients.”

Despite declining death rates for many cancers, rates of new cases continue to increase for cancers of the kidney, pancreas, liver, and oral cavity and pharynx (among non-Hispanic whites) and melanoma skin cancer, the ACS reports. Cases of liver cancer is increasing at the fastest pace — by 2 percent to 3 percent annually from 2007 through 2016. However, the pace has slowed from previous years.

Other highlights from the ACS report:

  • The overall rate of new cancer cases in women has stayed about the same over the past few decades. While lung cancer cases have continued to decline, the drop in colorectal cancer cases has slowed and other common cancers in women have increased or stayed the same.
  • The overall rate of new cancer cases in men stayed about the same through 2016 after dropping significantly from 2007 to 2014, due to slowing declines for colorectal cancer and stabilizing rates for prostate cancer.
  • Breast cancer death rates declined 40 percent from 1989 to 2017 among women.
  • Prostate cancer death rates declined 52 percent from 1993 to 2017 among men.
  • Colorectal cancer death rates declined 53 percent from 1980 to 2017 among men and by 57% from 1969 to 2017 among women.

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