Statistics Report: 1.5 Million Cancer Deaths Avoided in 2 Decades

Annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society shows the death rate from cancer in the US has fallen 22% from its peak in 1991. This translates to more than 1.5 million deaths from cancer that were avoided. “Cancer Statistics, 2015,” published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its companion piece “Cancer Facts & Figures 2015,” estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the US this year. The estimates are some of the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world.

A total of 1,658,370 new cancer cases and 589,430 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2015. During the most recent 5 years for which there are data (2007-2011), new cancer cases decreased by 1.8% per year in men and stayed the same in women. Cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% in women in the same 5 years.

“The continuing drops we’re seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society in a statement. “Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79, and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years. The change may be inevitable, but we can still lessen cancer’s deadly impact by making sure as many Americans as possible have access to the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat cancer.”

The researchers say additional progress can be made by applying cancer-fighting efforts across all segments of the population. The amount of the decrease in cancer deaths varied by state, and was generally lowest in the South and highest in the Northeast. Regional differences in cancer death rates and trends reflect differences in risk factor patterns, such as smoking and obesity, as well as disparities in the national distribution of poverty and access to health care, which have increased over time.

Lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancer

  • Lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancers continue to be the most common causes of cancer death, accounting for almost half of the total cancer deaths among men and women. More than 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths (27%) is due to lung cancer.
  • Lung cancer death rates declined 36% between 1990 and 2011 among men and 11% between 2002 and 2011 among women due to reduced tobacco use. Lung cancer incidence rates began declining in the mid-1980s in men and in the late 1990s in women. The differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use, where women began smoking in large numbers about 20 years later than men.
  • Death rates for breast cancer are down more than one-third (35%) from peak rates, while prostate and colon cancer death rates are each down by nearly half (47%) as a result of improvements in early detection and treatments.
  • In 2015, prostate, lung, and colon cancers will account for an estimated one-half of all cancer in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for about one-quarter of new diagnoses.
  • The three most commonly diagnosed types of cancer among women in 2015 are expected to be breast, lung, and colon cancer, accounting for one-half of all cases in women. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29% of all new cancers among women in the U.S.

Special section on breast carcinoma in situ

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 breast carcinoma in situ. An estimated 60,290 new cases of breast carcinoma in situ are expected to be diagnosed in 2015. In situ breast cancer is not as widely known or understood as invasive breast cancer.

Carcinoma in situ describes abnormal cells that have not invaded nearby tissues, but that look very similar to cancer cells when viewed under a microscope. For many years, it was assumed that these cells would eventually become invasive cancer if not treated. But more recent research indicates that the process is more complicated than thought and long-term studies have found that even without treatment, not all cases of carcinoma in situ become invasive cancer.

The vast majority (83%) of in situ breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS starts in cells lining the breast duct. While DCIS cannot spread to other parts of the body or cause serious illness or death, if left untreated it could become invasive cancer. Studies have found that 20% to 53% of women with untreated DCIS were eventually diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer. On the other hand, some women treated for DCIS may never have developed an invasive breast cancer. Unfortunately, there is not yet a good way to know for certain which cases will go on to become invasive cancer and which ones won’t.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) starts in the milk-producing glands of the breast. LCIS is not generally thought to be a precursor of invasive cancer, but is considered a marker for increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

The authors say they hope that the information in the Special Section will help patients facing the disease, as well as friends, family, and others who can provide support and perspective for women who are newly diagnosed and those living after a diagnosis of DCIS or LCIS.

“Cancer Statistics 2015” can be viewed at, while “Cancer Facts & Figures 2015” is available at

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Cancer Statistics, 2015. Published early online January 5, 2015 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author: Rebecca Siegel, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Cancer Facts & Figures 2015. Published online January 5, 2015. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

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