Annual Report to the Nation: Cancer Death Rates Still Dropping

The death rate from cancer in the United States is continuing the decline that began in the early 1990s, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. It shows the rate of death from cancer in the United States is going down among both men and women, for children, and for the most common types of cancer, including lung, colon, breast, and prostate. However, the report identified some cancer types with increasing incidence or death rates, including liver cancer.

The American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute work together to create the report, which has been published each year since 1998. It provides an update of new cancer cases, death rates, and trends in the United States.

The report was published early online March 9, 2016 in the American Cancer Society's journal Cancer.

Rates of liver cancer deaths, incidence are increasing

Death rates from liver cancer from 2008 to 2012 increased the fastest of all cancer types. The rate of new liver cancer cases also increased sharply, second only to thyroid cancer. A major cause of liver cancer in the US is infection with hepatitis C.

Among the findings:

  • Men had more than twice the incidence rate of liver cancer than women.
  • Rates of liver cancer incidence and death increased for both men and women.
  • Rates of liver cancer incidence increased with age for men and women until age 85.
  • People born between 1945 and 1965 had the highest rates of deaths from liver cancer linked to hepatitis C. The CDC recommends adults in this age group be tested for hepatitis C.
  • Heavy alcohol use and obesity also raise the risk for liver cancer.

“We have the knowledge and tools available to slow the epidemic of liver cancer in the U.S., including testing and treatment for HCV, hepatitis B vaccination, and lowering obesity rates,” said Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society in a statement. “We hope that this report will help focus needed attention and resources on liver cancer.”

Cancer death rates continue to fall

For the most recent reporting period, the rates of lung cancer incidence and death have decreased in both men and women, most likely due to public health efforts to decrease smoking rates. Colon cancer incidence and death rates among both men and women continued to fall, most likely due to screening. Colon cancer screening can prevent cancer by finding and removing pre-cancerous polyps, or find cancer earlier when it’s easier to treat.

Overall cancer death rates decreased by 1.5% per year from 2003 to 2012. Death rates decreased an average of 1.8% per year among men and 1.4% per year among women.

Trends that call for further study

  • Deaths from breast cancer in women have decreased overall. However, black women have a higher breast cancer death rate than white women.
  • Prostate cancer incidence rates continue to decline in men, likely because of a reduction in PSA testing. Study is needed to achieve the right balance between reducing unnecessary screening while making sure more aggressive cases of prostate cancer are caught early.
  • Incidence rates of thyroid and kidney cancers are increasing among both men and women, but no increase in death rates has been noted for these cancer types.
  • Incidence rates are increasing for oral and throat cancers overall among white men. This may be associated with increased HPV-linked throat cancers.
  • Incidence and death rates are increasing for uterine cancer among white, black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander women.

Among the risk factors for some of these cancer types are excess weight and lack of physical activity.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2012, Featuring the Increasing Incidence of Liver Cancer. Published early online March 9, 2016 in Cancer. First author: A. Blythe Ryerson, PhD, MPH. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

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