Cancer death rates have dropped 22% in 20 years

Drop in smoking, better screening, treatments cited

Cancer death rates have decreased by 22% in the past twenty years, and more Americans than ever are surviving the disease, according to an annual American Cancer Society (ACS) report.

The report was based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Cancer Institute, and CDC. It found that improved screening practices, better treatments, and lower smoking rates have saved 1.5 million cancer patients' lives since 1991.

The report also found that:

  • Cancer death rates improved slightly more in men than woman from 2007 to 2011, dropping 1.8% and 1.4% respectively;
  • Lung cancer death rates dropped 36% in men from 1990 to 2011;
  • Breast cancer death rates fell 35%; and
  • Colorectal cancer death rates dropped 47% from their peak.

"The continuing drops we're seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not stop," says John Seffrin, CEO of ACS. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the nation—and is predicted to top heart disease in coming years.

In 2015, the ACS report predicted that:

  • About 1.7 million cancer cases will occur;
  • Nearly 590,000 deaths will be cancer-related;
  • Prostate and breast cancer will continue to be the most diagnosed amongst men and women respectively;
  • Lung cancer will be the leading cause of cancer deaths and second-most diagnosed type for both genders;
  • Leukemia will be the most diagnosed cancer in children one to 14 years old; and
  • Brain and nervous system cancers are to be the most common in patients 15 to 19 years old.

Infographic: What's the most common cancer in your state?

Further reducing smoking rates, as well as high caloric intakes, lack of exercise, and obesity could led to an additional 40% drop in cancer rates in the next two decades, says Otis Brawley, CMO of ACS.

The report also notes that certain regions saw more improvements than others. For example, the Northeast experienced a 25% to 30% decrease in deaths from 1991 to 2011, while the South saw just a 15% decline.

"The large geographic variation in cancer death rates and trends reflects differences in risk factor patterns, such as smoking and obesity, as well as disparities in the national distribution of poverty and access to health care, which have increased over time," the researchers write in the report (Reuters, 12/31/14; Briggs, NBC News, 12/30/14; Lupkin, ABC News, 12/31/14; CBS News, 12/31/14).

Where there's smoke, there's cancer


Fifty years ago, we declared war on smoking. Smoking rates have since fallen, a lot. More than 40% of adults smoked in 1964; today, it's less than 20%.


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