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Annual Report: More Than a Million Cancer Deaths Avoided in 2 Decades

Article date: January 4, 2012

By Stacy Simon

Newly published statistics from the American Cancer Society show that cancer death rates in the U.S. continue to decrease. Death rates continue to decline for lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers, which are responsible for the most cancer deaths. However, there has been an increase in the past decade of people developing some less common cancers, including pancreas, liver, thyroid, and kidney cancer.


The annual report, “Cancer Statistics, 2012,” published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its companion piece “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012,” estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the U.S. this year. The estimates are some of the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world.

A total of 1,638,910 new cancer cases and 577,190 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the U.S. in 2012. Between 1990/1991 and 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, overall death rates decreased by about 23% in men and 15% in women. This translates to more than 1 million deaths from cancer that were avoided.

The rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths vary quite a bit among racial and ethnic groups. For all cancer sites combined, African-American men have a 15% higher rate of new cancer cases and a 33% higher death rate than white men. African-American women have a 6% lower rate of new cancer cases, but a 16% higher death rate than white women. However, in the past decade, African-American men had the most rapid decline in death rates, at 2.4% per year.

The reports call for applying existing knowledge about fighting cancer across all segments of the population, especially groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, as a way to speed progress against cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about one-third of cancer deaths in 2012 will be caused by tobacco use and another third will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition.

Each year, American Cancer Society researchers include a special section in “Cancer Facts & Figures” highlighting an issue of cancer research or care. This year, the topic is cancers with increasing incidence trends. Despite a decline in the rates of the most common cancers, there has been an increase in the rates of several less common cancers: pancreas, liver, thyroid, kidney, melanoma of the skin, esophageal adenocarcinoma (a kind of esophagus cancer), and some kinds of throat cancer associated with HPV (human papillomavirus) infection.

The increase in the rate of new cases varied among population groups. Rates for HPV-related throat cancer and melanoma increased only in whites. Esophagus cancer rates increased in whites and Hispanic men. Liver cancer rates increased in white, black and Hispanic men, and in black women. Rates for thyroid and kidney cancers increased in all racial and ethnic groups except for American Indian/Alaska Native men.

Reasons for the increased rates are not entirely known. But increases in esophagus, pancreas, liver, and kidney cancers may be linked to obesity. It’s also possible that more of these cancers are being reported because of better early detection practices. These rising trends are part of the additional burden associated with an expanding and aging population, and call for additional research to determine the cause. “Cancer Statistics 2012” can be viewed at cacancerjournal.org, while “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012” is available at cancer.org/statistics.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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