Cancer Death Rates Are Dropping in U.S.

Early Detection and Better Treatment Are Factors in Decline in Cancer Deaths

From the WebMD Archives

July 8, 2010 -- Death rates for cancer are continuing a slow but steady decline in the U.S., due mainly to improved efforts at early detection, better treatments, and smoking cessation, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says in a new report.

Death rates for all cancers combined decreased 2% per year from 2001 to 2006 in males and 1.5% annually from 2002 to 2006 in females, the ACS says.

The report says lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers in men and lung, breast, and colorectal cancers in women continue to be the most common fatal cancers, accounting for about half of the total cancer deaths among men and women.

The ACS estimates that prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers will account for 52% of all newly diagnosed cases in 2010 in men. In women, breast, lung, and colorectal cancers will account for 52% of new diagnoses this year.

The ACS estimates that more than 1.5 million new cancer cases -- 789,620 in men and 739,940 in women -- will be diagnosed in 2010. It estimates that 569,490 people will die of cancer this year.

The annual rates of decline might seem small or modest, but they add up to significant drops, David Sampson, spokesman for the ACS, tells WebMD.

Other findings in the report:

  • Prostate cancer will account for 28% of the new cases of cancers in men.
  • Breast cancer is expected to account for 28% of all new cases in women.
  • Cancer incidence rates decreased in men 1.3% per year from 2000 to 2006, and 0.5% in women annually from 1998 to 2006.
  • Lung cancer incidence rates have been declining 1.8% annually in men since 1991 and appear to be leveling off in women after increasing for decades.
  • Colorectal cancer incidence rates dropped markedly from 1998 through 2006, by 3% annually in men and 2.2% in women.
  • Lung cancer will remain the leading cause of cancer death in men and women, followed by prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women.

Building on Past Success

"This report is yet more proof that we are creating a world with more birthdays," says John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive of the ACS. "We will build on our progress in the fight against cancer through laws and policies that increase access to cancer prevention, early detection and treatment services, and with a sustained federal investment in research designed to find breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of the most deadly forms of cancer."


The numbers come from Cancer Statistics 2010, published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The report also says that:

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death among children between ages 1 to 14, after accidents.
  • The five-year relative survival rate among children for all cancers combined improved from 58% for patients diagnosed in 1975 to 1977 to 81% for those diagnosed in 1999-2005.

The ACS says a decline in cancer mortality rates over the past 16 years has averted more than 767,000 deaths.

"Not all of this was due to some remarkable breakthrough in medical treatment, although some of it certainly is due to better cancer care," writes Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP, deputy chief medical officer of the national office of the American Cancer Society, on his blog.

"Much of it has to do with stopping smoking, or not starting for that matter, especially among men," he writes. "Much of it has to do with better screening and early detection of breast and colorectal cancer, and perhaps prostate cancer. Some of it may have to do with lifestyle changes, such as increased awareness of the importance of exercise and diet in reducing cancer risk."

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 08, 2010



News release, American Cancer Society.

Jemal, A. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, published online July 7, 2010.

David Sampson, spokesman, American Cancer Society.

Dr. Len's Cancer Blog.

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