Risk of Dying from Cancer Drops 20 Percent in 2 Decades

There are expected to be about 1.7 million new cases of cancer in 2014.

A new health care institute is designed to encourage national policy change

The American Cancer Society estimates reductions in cancer death rates during the past two decades have led to about 1.3 million avoided cancer deaths.

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 Cancer death rates in the United States have continued to decline by about 20 percent in the last two decades, reaching a new low in 2010, according to new data released by the American Cancer Society.

Between 1991 and 2010, the average cancer death rate per 100,000 people dropped from 215.1 in 1991 to 171.8 in 2010. In 2014, the ACS estimates there will be 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 cancer deaths -- or about 1,600 deaths per day. Still, the 20 percent decline translates to about 1.3 million avoided cancer deaths.

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Middle-aged black men saw the largest decrease in 20 years, at about 55 percent. And although that decline in death rates is “extraordinary,” according to American Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer John Seffrin, death rates are still higher for black men than white men for “nearly every cancer and for all cancers combined.”

“The progress we are seeing is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” Seffrin said in a statement.

Although death rates overall have declined in the last 20 years, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease. One in four deaths in America is due to cancer, the report says.

Overall, lung and bronchus cancers are expected to be the leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women, accounting for 28 percent and 26 percent of all cancer-related deaths in 2014, respectively. Prostate and colorectum cancers are the next two leading causes of cancer-related death for men in 2014, as well as breast and colorectum cancers for women. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for more than one-quarter of all new cancer cases among women.

Among the estimated new cases of cancer in 2014, men are most at risk for prostate, lung and bronchus, and colorectum cancers, which together make up about half of new cancer cases. For women, the three most commonly diagnosed types of cancer are expected to be breast, lung and bronchus and colorectum cancers, which account for half of all new cancer cases.

The approximately 1.7 million new cases of cancer expected in 2014 are equivalent to more than 4,500 new cancer diagnoses each day, the report says.

The overall cancer death rate reached its peak in 1991 (215.1 per 100,000), which was driven mostly by a large increase in lung cancer deaths among men “as a consequence of the tobacco epidemic,” the report says. The sharp decline during the last 20 years is the result of advances in prevention, early detection and treatment overall.

Still, cancer incidence and death rates varied widely by region, gender, as well as race and ethnicity.

Incidence rates across the country were as high as 523.2 per 100,000 people in Kentucky, for example, and as low as 401.1 per 100,000 in Arizona. The national average incidence rate for those years (2006 to 2010), by comparison, was 469.6. 

State variations in incidence rates can reflect differences in the use of screening and detection practices, as well as differences in disease occurrence and behaviors. 

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In Kentucky, for example, the lung cancer incidence rate for men (126 per 100,000) is nearly four times as high as in Utah (34 per 100,000). But Kentucky has historically had the highest smoking prevalence, while Utah has the lowest, the report says.

Additionally, while the national average death rate for 2006 to 2010 was 176.4 per 100,000, rates were also the highest in Kentucky, at 209.5, and the lowest in Utah, at 131.3. 

Across different age and racial groups, black men had the largest death rate declines between 1991 and 2010 in every age group. In fact, declines occurred for black and white men and women of all ages, with the exception of white women over the age of 80. Most groups saw the largest death rate declines for middle-aged ranges, and the lowest decline for those over 80. 

“The smaller declines among seniors reflect the lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic on older birth cohorts,” the report says.