The US cancer death rate has fallen by 31 percent since its peak in 1991, according to the latest annual cancer statistics report from the American Cancer Society published yesterday (January 12) in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Between 2017 and 2018, cancer mortality dropped by 2.4 percent, beating the previous year’s record for an annual decline of 2.2 percent. In 2017, the cancer death rate was 152.6 per 100,000 people, and in 2018 this rate was 149 per 100,000.
A lower rate of deaths from lung cancer, the cancer that kills the most people each year, accounted for almost half of the overall decline in cancer mortality. In 2018, 142,081 individuals died of lung/bronchus cancer, according to the report. Researchers say this progress is due to reductions in smoking and improvements in cancer detection and treatment. In contrast, the drop in death rates of prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers have slowed in recent years.
Survival rates for Black patients were lower than for whites for almost every cancer type. Overall, the five-year survival rate for white patients was 68 percent compared with 63 percent for Black patients from 2010 through 2016. But the disparity in overall cancer mortality between Black and white patients has shrunk from 33 percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 2018.
“While recent advances in treatment for lung cancer and several other cancers are reason to celebrate, it is concerning to see the persistent racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for highly preventable cancers,” William Cance, the chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, says in a statement. “There is a continued need for increased investment in equitable cancer control interventions and clinical research to create more advanced treatment options to help accelerate progress in the fight against cancer.”
The researchers highlight cervical cancer as the second leading cause of cancer death in women aged 20 to 39 in the US. Although this cancer is largely preventable through screening and HPV vaccination, more than 4,000 women—about 11 per day—died from cervical cancer in the US in 2018. “This cancer we can screen for it, and not only can we screen for it, we can prevent it. We know what to do, we just have to get a whole lot better at actually doing it,” Deborah Schrag, the chief of population sciences at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who was not an author on the study, tells ABC News.
Cancer is still the second leading cause of the death in the US. According to the report, 1,898,160 new cancer cases and 608,570 cancer deaths are expected in 2021. These estimates do not include the potential effects of COVID-19 on cancer diagnoses and outcomes, says Rebecca Siegel, a cancer epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and the lead author of the study, in the statement. “We anticipate that disruptions in access to cancer care in 2020 will lead to downstream increases in advanced stage diagnoses that may impede progress in reducing cancer mortality rates in the years to come.”