US cancer death rate hits milestone: 25 years of decline

A study from the American Cancer Society found there were approximately 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths in the U.S. since reaching a peak of 215 deaths per 100,000 people

The cancer rate in the United States dropped continuously over a 25-year period, representing a 27 percent decline, according to a study published Tuesday.

The prostate cancer death rate flattened from 2013 to 2016.

"The continued decline in the cancer death rate over the past 25 years is really good news and was a little bit of a surprise, only because the other leading causes of death in the USA are starting to flatten".

But if the death rate had remained at its 1991 level, the number of additional deaths would have been 2.6 million, say the report's authors.

Data were collected from 47 states and the District of Columbia for this report.

The good news is, over the past quarter of a century, cancer deaths have been on the decline in the US.

The new report noted that almost 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 600,000 will die of the disease.

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Although lung cancer accounts for the most cancer-related deaths, the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men include prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer (CRC); the 3 most common diagnosed cancers for women are breast, lung, and CRC.

The death rate for lung cancer dropped by 48% from 1990 to 2016 among men and by 23% from 2002 to 2016 among women, with declines accelerating among both men and women in recent years. For example, the study found lung and liver cancer mortality is 40 percent higher in men living in poor counties. The cancer death rate (2007 - 2016) declined by 1.4% per year in women and 1.8% per year in men.

For cancers such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, death rates vary only slightly between the rich and poor, the investigators found. The differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use, where women began smoking in large numbers many years later than men and were slower to quit. However, in adults under the age of 55 years, there was an increase of about 2% in new cases per year since the mid-1990s. That gap has narrowed from a peak of 33% in 1993.

Some of the counties with the highest poverty are in rural areas of south Georgia, and "this is something that we've become aware of here at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University", Curran said.

"People with lower SES have greater exposure to cancer risk factors, like smoking and excess body weight, and barriers to effective cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment", Siegel commented.

Where the poor have access to screening, these disparities can be eliminated, she suggested. Socioeconomic deprivation was, prior to the mid-1980s, linked with lower cancer mortality; rates of colorectal cancer in men in the poorest U.S. counties were approximately 20% lower than those in affluent counties in early 1970s, but are 35% higher today. "There were 114 cases under the age of 50 (in the study), and there are some 16,000 cases a year of colorectal cancer of people under the age of 50 in the U.S.", Weber said. In 2019, an estimated 11,060 children in this age group will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,190 will die from it. Leukemia accounts for nearly a third (28%) of all childhood cancers, followed by brain and other nervous system tumors (26%). While she celebrated the progress made, she also noted that the report showed that where a patient lives can dictate their chances of surviving cancer and that many patients cannot access high-quality care or be involved in research.

The result showed that the 114 women who developed colorectal cancer in the study tended to have a higher BMIs. The 5-year relative survival rate for all cancer sites combined improved from 58% for children diagnosed during 1975 to 1977 to 83% for those diagnosed during 2008 to 2014.

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