The death rate from cancer in the US has declined steadily over the past 25 years, according to annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society. As of 2016, the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 27% from its peak in 1991. This decline translates to about 1.5% per year and more than 2.6 million deaths avoided between 1991 and 2016.
The drop in cancer mortality is mostly due to steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment. But not all populations are benefitting. Although the racial gap in cancer deaths is slowly narrowing, socioeconomic inequalities are widening. “Cancer Statistics, 2019,” published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 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. The information is also released in a companion report, Cancer Facts and Figures 2019, available on the interactive website, the Cancer Statistics Center.
A total of 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 deaths from cancer are expected to occur in the US in 2019. During the most recent decade of available data (2006 – 2015), the rate of new cancer diagnoses decreased by about 2% per year in men and stayed about the same in women. The cancer death rate (2007 – 2016) declined by 1.4% per year in women and 1.8% per year in men.
The most common cancers diagnosed in men are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. Together, they account for 42% of all cases in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for nearly 1 in 5 new cases. For women, the 3 most common cancers are breast, lung, and colorectal. Together, they account for one-half of all cases, with breast cancer alone accounting for 30% of new cases.
These cancers also account for the greatest numbers of cancer deaths. One-quarter of all cancer deaths are due to lung cancer.
The rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths vary quite a bit among racial and ethnic groups, with rates generally highest among African Americans and lowest for Asian Americans. The cancer death rate in 2016 was 14% higher in Blacks than in whites. That gap has narrowed from a peak of 33% in 1993. The progress is due to the steep drop in smoking rates among Black teens from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.
Racial and ethnic differences in cancer burden reflect several factors related to socioeconomic status. People living in the poorest counties in the US are more likely to smoke and be obese. During 2012-2016, death rates in the poorest counties were 2 times higher for cervical cancer and 40% higher for male lung and liver cancers, compared with the richest counties. Poverty is also associated with lower rates of routine cancer screening, later stage at diagnosis, and a lower likelihood of getting the best treatment.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death among children ages 1 to 14 years in the US, after accidents. 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 almost a third (28%) of all childhood cancers, followed by brain and other nervous system tumors (26%).
Cancer incidence rates increased in children and adolescents by 0.7% per year since 1975. However, death rates have declined continuously. 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.
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 the “oldest old,” adults ages 85 and older. This age group represents the fastest-growing population group in the US. The group’s numbers are expected to nearly triple from 6.4 million in 2016 to 19 million by 2060.
Cancer risk increases with age, and the rapidly growing older population will increase demand for cancer care. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer at older ages are often complicated by other medical conditions.
The special section provides information about cancer in the oldest old in the US, including incidence and mortality rates and trends, survival, treatment, and the unique challenges affecting these patients.
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.