Cancer Mortality Rates Decline With Help From Early Detection, Treatment Advances


Cancer mortality rates have declined significantly since 1991; however, certain cancer types have seen slower progression as of recently because of improved screening.

Cancer mortality rates have decreased by 29% since 1991, translating into approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths; however, progress is slowing for cancers that are amenable to early detection through screening, according to an update from the American Cancer Society.

In addition, substantial racial and geographic disparities still persist for highly preventable cancers.

“Slowing momentum for some cancers amenable to early detection is juxtaposed with notable gains for other common cancers,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers collected incidence data through 2016 by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program; the National Program of Cancer Registries; and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. In addition, they collected mortality data through 2017 by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The researchers noted that the progress seen was driven by long-term declines in death rates among the four leading cancers: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. However, these reductions slowed between 2008 and 2017 for female breast and colorectal cancers and has halted for prostate cancer.

On the other hand, declines in lung cancer have significantly declined. Lung cancer mortality in men declined from 3% annually during 2008 to 2013 to 5% from 2013 to 2017, while women decline 2% and 4%, respectively, during those time frames. The researchers noted that this spurred the largest ever single-year drop in overall cancer mortality of 2.2% from 2016 to 2017. Unfortunately, lung cancer still caused more deaths in 2017, compared with breast, prostate, colorectal and brain cancer combined.

Other findings in leading cancer types included:

  • The breast cancer death rate dropped by 40% from 1989 to 2017.
  • There was a 52% drop in the prostate cancer death rate from 1993 to 2017.
  • Since 1980, there has been a 53% drop in the colorectal cancer death rate among men, and a 57% drop since 1969 among women.

In addition to lung cancer, melanoma morality rates declined as well. The researchers attributed this to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of new therapies for metastatic melanoma. “It’s clearly the influence of these drugs because improvements in survival in the past several years are limited to metastatic disease,” Rebecca L. Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and an author on the report, said in an interview with CancerNetwork®, a sister publication of CURE®’s. “…Continued advancements in more targeted therapeutics could move the needle further in the coming years.”

Melanoma mortality rates only declined by 1% from 2006 to 2010, but this increased to a 7% decline from 2013 to 2017 in men and women aged 50 to 64 years. From 2013 to 2017, rates also declined by 2% to 3% in men and women aged 20 to 49 years, and 5% to 6% in those aged 65 years and older. “(This is) particularly striking because rates in this age group were increasing prior to 2013,” the researchers wrote.

Lastly, the researchers highlighted that long-term rapid increases in liver cancer mortality have decreased in women and stabilized in men.

“Increased investment in both the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions and basic and clinical research to further advance treatment options would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer,” the researchers concluded.

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