Cancer death rates in the United States have declined steadily within the last 25 years, according to annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society (ACS). As of 2016, the cancer death rate among men and women had fallen 27 percent from its peak in 1991. This decline translates to about 1.5 percent each year, as well as over 2.6 million deterred deaths between 1991 and 2016.
The decreasing cancer mortality rate is primarily due to steady reductions in smoking and advancements in cancer detection and treatment. But not all populations in the US are benefitting. Although the racial gap in cancer deaths is narrowing, socioeconomic inequalities are broadening.
According to the most recent decade (2006 to 2015) of available cancer data from the ACS, the rate of new cancer diagnoses dropped by about 2 percent per year in men and remained about the same in women. Cancer death rates from 2007 to 2016 reduced by 1.4 percent per year in women and 1.8 percent each year in men.
Most Common Cancer Types in 2019
The most prevalent cancers diagnosed in men are lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Together, they are responsible for 42 percent of all cases in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for almost 1 in 5 new cases. For women, the three most common cancers are lung, colorectal, and breast. Together, these malignant diseases account for one-half of all cases in women, with breast cancer on its own accounting for 30 percent of new diagnoses.
These cancers also account for the greatest cancer mortality rates. One-quarter of all cancer deaths are a result of lung cancer.
- The death rates of lung cancer dropped 48 percent from 1990 to 2016 among men and 23 percent from 2002 to 2016 among women. Between 2011 and 2015, new lung cancer diagnoses declined by 3 percent per year in men and 1.5 percent per year in women.
- Breast cancer mortality rates among women declined 40 percent from 1989 to 2016. Developments in early detection are top contributors to this progress.
- Prostate cancer death rates plummeted 51 percent from 1993 to 2016 among men. According to Medical News Today, routine PSA blood tests are no longer recommended because of concerns with high rates of overdiagnosis (finding a medical condition that would never have caused symptoms or problems). Therefore, diagnosticians are detecting fewer cases of prostate cancer.
- Colorectal cancer death rates went down 53 percent between 1970 to 2016 among men and women due to improvements in screening and treatment. However, in people below 55 years of age, new cases of colorectal cancer have increased by almost 2 percent per year since the mid-1990s.
Cancer Outcomes Among Racial and Ethnic Groups
The rates of new cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths somewhat vary among racial and ethnic groups. The numbers are generally low for Asian Americans, while statistics are highest among African Americans. In fact, the cancer death rate in 2016 was 14 percent higher in black individuals than in white men and women. That gap has significantly narrowed from the 33 percent peak in 1993. The lower smoking rate among black teens from the late 1970s until the early 1990s is accountable for this progress.
Racial and ethnic differences in cancer burden mirror several factors related to socioeconomic status. People living in the poorest states and counties in America have a higher tendency to smoke and become obese. Between 2012 to 2016, mortality rates in the poorest counties were twice as higher for cervical cancer and 40 percent higher for male liver and lung cancers, compared with wealthier counties. Further, scientific studies have linked poverty to lower rates of cancer screening, advanced diagnoses, and a lower likelihood of getting the best treatment available.
Special Section Regarding the Oldest Old
Each year, researchers from the American Cancer Society include a special section in Cancer Facts & Figures focusing on an issue of cancer research or care. In 2019, the topic of choice is the “oldest old,” which encompasses adults aged 85 and older. This particular age group represents the fastest-growing population in the United States. The group’s numbers may triple from 6.4 million in 2016 to 19 million by 2060.
The risk of cancer development increases with age, and the increasing older population will raise the demand for quality cancer care. Diagnosis and treatment of malignant diseases at older ages are often complicated by other health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and so forth.
The special section offers in-depth information about cancer among the oldest old in America, including incidence and mortality rates, treatment, survival, and the individual challenges affecting these patients.
- Men and women aged 85 and older represent 8 percent of all new cancer cases, translating to about 140,690 diagnoses in 2019.
- Malignant disorders are the second-leading causes of death in the oldest old, following cardiovascular disease.
- Medical researchers were expecting 103,250 cancer-related deaths in this age group in 2019, accounting for 17 percent of all cancer deaths.
- In adults aged 85 with no personal or family history of cancer, the risk of developing cancer in their remaining lifetime is 12.8 percent for women and 16.4 percent for men.
- As of January 1, 2019, approximately 1,944,280 people aged 85 and older were cancer survivors, representing a third of all the men and a fourth of all the women in this age group. Currently, they are the fastest-growing group of cancer survivors.
Additional information from the American Cancer Society’s annual report:
- The lifetime risk of developing cancer is 39.3 percent for men and 37.7 percent for women.
- In 2016, 22 percent of deaths in the United States were due to cancer, making malignant diseases the second leading cause of death in both men and women, following heart disease.
- Liver cancer incidences are rising faster than for any other cancer. Individuals infected with hepatitis C have a high risk of liver cancer occurrence.
- The incidence of thyroid cancer, melanoma skin cancer, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer have also increased in 2019.
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