Annual Report to the Nation: Cancer Death Rates Continue Long Decline

graphic that says "1999-2015 Cancer Death Rates Declined for Men, Women and Children"

The death rate from cancer in the United States is continuing to fall among men, women, and children, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. Part 1 of the report shows the rate of death from cancer in the United States is decreasing for all major racial and ethnic groups, and for the most common types of cancer, including lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate. However, the report identified some cancer types with increasing death rates, including liver, pancreas, and brain cancer in men and women; oral cavity, throat, soft tissue, non-melanoma skin cancer in men; and uterine cancer in women.

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.

Black men and non-Hispanic women in various racial groups had the highest overall cancer incidence rates, and black men and black women had the highest overall cancer death rates.

“There continue to be significant declines in the cancer death rate with significant differences in rate by gender, race and ethnicity,” said Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “We need to continue working to understand the reasons for the disparities and how to most efficiently continue supporting and if possible accelerate these declines.”

In a companion study—Part 2 of this year’s report—researchers reported that there has been an increase in incidence of late-stage prostate cancer and that after decades of decline, the prostate cancer death rate has stabilized.

Parts 1 and 2 of the report were published May 22, 2018 in the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer.

Among the findings:

  • Overall cancer death rates from 1999 to 2015 decreased by 1.8% per year in men, and by 1.4% per year in women.
  • Cancer death rates decreased during 2011-2015 for 11 of the 18 most common cancers in men and for 14 of the 20 most common cancers in women.
  • Rates of new cancer cases from 1999 to 2014 decreased in men but stayed about the same for women.
  • Survival rates increased significantly for several cancer types for both early- and late-stage disease, but varied by race and ethnicity, and state.

Behind the numbers

The declining cancer death rates have resulted largely from improvements in early detection and treatment, and reductions in tobacco use. However cigarette smoking still accounts for more than 25% of cancer deaths in the United States.

Increasing death rates were reported for several cancer types. Researchers attribute the increase in liver cancer death rates to the high prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection among Baby Boomers, as well as to the high prevalence of obesity in the United States. Obesity is also thought to have contributed to the increase in death rates from cancers of the uterus and pancreas.

The recent increase in oral cavity and pharynx cancer death rates among white men is thought to be attributable to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Trends in prostate cancer

In the companion study, researchers explored prostate cancer trends in more detail. They found that overall rates of new prostate cancers declined about 6.5% per year from 2007 to 2014. However, the rate of new advanced prostate cancers increased between 2011 and 2014. In addition, after declining between 1993 and 2013, prostate cancer death rates leveled off between 2013 and 2015.

This study also reports a decline in recent prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening in the population based on a series of national surveys. The reported decline in screening occurred between the 2010 and 2013 surveys, for men between 50 and 74 years of age, and after the 2008 survey, for men age 75 and older.

“There are many factors that contribute to incidence and mortality such as improvements in staging and treating cancer,” said Serban Negoita, M.D., Dr.P.H., of NCI’s Surveillance Research Program and lead author of the prostate cancer report. “Additional research is needed to get a more comprehensive understanding of the recent trends and the possible relationship with PSA screening, as well as the relationship with other factors that may be associated with these trends.”

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.

Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, Part I: National Cancer Statistics. Published May 22, 2018 in Cancer. First author: Ahmedin Jemal, D.V.M., Ph.D. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer Part II: Recent Changes in Prostate Cancer Trends and Disease Characteristics. Published May 22, 2018 in Cancer. First author: Serban Negoita, MD, DrPH. National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.


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