US Cancer Death Rate Dropped for 25 Years Starting in 1991
US Cancer Death Rate Dropped for 25 Years Starting in 1991

US Cancer Death Rate Dropped for 25 Years Starting in 1991

Better treatment and diagnoses have helped more people survive, but economic disparities in outcomes for some preventable cancers have gotten worse.

Carolyn Wilke
Jan 9, 2019


The US cancer death rate has steadily dropped since 1991, with a total decline of 27 percent over 25 years, researchers reported yesterday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The deaths from cancer for every 100,000 people dropped from a peak of 215 in 1991 to 156 in 2016. Advances in cancer treatment and detection as well as a decrease in smoking have primarily driven the decrease, according to the authors.

Although cancer was still the second leading killer in 2016, the study revealed a decline in deaths from the four major types of cancer: lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. Lung cancer is the most deadly, but with fewer people smoking, the death rate among men has fallen by almost 50 percent since 1991, reports The Associated Press.

Death rates due to obesity-related cancers, including uterine, pancreatic, and liver cancers, have been on the rise, although it’s still not clear exactly how the obesity epidemic has affected cancer mortality.

Racial disparities have lessened, as measured by outcomes of black and white patients. Mortality in black patients was 33 percent higher than in white patients in 1993 and is now 14 percent higher. 

The report also points to the role of socioeconomic inequality in cancer outcomes, in particular, for preventable cancers. For instance, cervical cancer mortality was 40 percent higher for women living in poor counties than for women in affluent counties, and lung and liver cancer in men showed the same trend, according to a statement from the American Cancer Society. “Meanwhile, socioeconomic inequalities in cancer mortality are small or non-existent for cancers that are less amenable to prevention and/or treatment, like pancreatic and ovarian cancers.”