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How Many People Die of Cancer a Year?

Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 18, 2020

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. The only health condition that kills more people is heart disease.

In 2018, an estimated 9.5 million people died of cancer worldwide. That’s about 26,000 people each day and 1 out of every 6 deaths. About 600,000 cancer deaths happen in the U.S. each year and about 80,000 in Canada. The rest happen in countries all around the world. About 7 out of every 10 deaths from the disease happen in low- or middle-income countries.

How Are Cancer Deaths Measured?

Experts sometimes measure cancer deaths as a simple count. But if you want to make comparisons between places or over time, it can help to measure it as a cancer death rate.

The death rate is the number of deaths divided by the number of people. To find out how many die for every 100,000 people, you can multiply this number by 100,000.

It’s possible for the actual number of deaths to go up at the same time that the death rate is going down. That’s what’s happening in the U.S. The number of deaths is going up as more people get older. But the cancer death rate for everyone in the country is going down.

Which Cancers Are Most Deadly?

The World Health Organization’s most recent figures are from 2018. In that year, the top five causes of cancer death globally were:

According to the National Cancer Institute, the list of top five causes of cancer death in the U.S. is similar but not the same. It estimates that in 2020, it will include:

The good news is that the death rates in the U.S. are going down for lung, colorectal, and breast cancers. But those for liver and pancreatic cancers are going up.

What About Skin Cancer?

Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer type. Experts expect 6,850 people to die from it in 2020. That’s about 1% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

In recent years, the number of melanoma cases has risen. But the death rate for melanoma has dropped by almost 3% per year from 2008 to 2017.

Are Cancer Deaths Rising?

The short answer is yes and no. Experts expect the number of cancer deaths in the world to keep going up. Estimates suggest that more than 16 million people will die of cancer by the year 2040. The reason is that there will be more people, and more of them will be older people. In some parts of the world, these things that play a role in certain cancers also are on the rise:

In the U.S., the number of deaths also is going up. But the cancer death rate per 100,000 people in the U.S. is going down. Experts expect the biggest drops in U.S. cancer death rates from these seven cancer types:

  • Prostate
  • Colorectal
  • Lung
  • Breast
  • Oral and pharynx (throat)
  • Cervical
  • Melanoma (skin)

According to the American Cancer Society, the U.S. cancer death rate has dropped steadily over the last 25 years. The death rate from 1991 to 2016 dropped by about 27%. In that time, 2.6 million fewer people died of cancer. That’s mostly because people in the U.S. are smoking less. Doctors have also made advances in catching the disease early and in treating it when they find it.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Deaths and Mortality,” “Expected New Cancer Cases and Deaths in 2020.”

American Cancer Society: “Global Cancer Facts & Figures,” “Facts & Figures 2019: US Cancer Death Rate has Dropped 27% in 25 Years.”

Canadian Cancer Society: “Cancer statistics at a glance.”

World Health Organization: “Cancer.”

National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program: “Cancer Mortality Rates,” “Cancer Stat Facts: Common Cancer Sites,” “Cancer Stat Facts: Colorectal,” “Cancer Stat Facts: Female Breast Cancer,” “Cancer Stat Facts: Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct Cancer,” “Cancer Stat Facts: Pancreatic Cancer“ “Cancer Stat Facts: Melanoma of the Skin.”

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