The mortality rate for cancer dropped 32% between 1991 and 2019, translating to about 3.5 million cancer deaths prevented, according to a recent report published by the American Cancer Society.
Cancer in the U.S.
Overall, the most common cancer among men is prostate cancer, which was responsible for 27% of new cancer diagnoses in 2019, and the most common cancer among women is breast cancer, which was responsible for 31% of all diagnoses in 2019, according to the report.
Cancer remained the second-leading cause of death in 2019, but the cancer death rate per 100,000 people dropped from 149.2 in 2018 to 146 in 2019.
According to the report, breast cancer death rates have dropped slightly. Electra Paskett, director of the division of cancer prevention and control at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, said there's "a really good case you can make for early detection reducing mortality."
Lung cancer deaths have also been declining, which the report attributes to decreases in smoking as well as earlier detection of lung cancer and better treatment. According to the report, more than 30% of lung cancer patients live at least three years after their diagnosis, which is up from 21% in 2004.
Overall, men have a 40.2% risk of developing cancer during their lives, while women have a 38.5% risk, according to the report.
The report also noted significant geographical and racial disparities in cancer death rates. For example, Mississippi saw the highest cancer mortality rate per 100,000 among men at 232.2 ,while Utah had the lowest at 142.8. Meanwhile, Kentucky had the highest cancer mortality rate per 100,000 for women at 157.,5 while Utah had the lowest at 105.1.
Risk of cancer death also varied between racial and ethnic groups. For example, cancer death risk was 33% higher among Black people than white people, and over 50% higher than whites among Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
According to the report, "longstanding inequalities in wealth" contribute to the gaps, as they lead to different levels of access to health care.
"The place where we still need to move the needle is variation based on race and place," Schrag said. "Race and place is the problem."
Report doesn't account for Covid-19 pandemic
Because the period covered by the report ended in 2019, the report doesn't reflect the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on cancer diagnoses and death rates.
But the report suggested that cancer diagnoses and treatments have likely been affected by the pandemic and by disruptions in access to care.