The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017—the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported. These findings were reported in “Cancer Statistics, 2020,” the latest edition of the American Cancer Society’s annual report on cancer rates and trends.
The steady 26-year decline in overall cancer mortality is driven by long-term drops in death rates for the four major cancers—lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate—although recent trends are mixed. The pace of mortality reductions for lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer death—accelerated in recent years (from 2% per year to 4% overall), spurring the record 1-year drop in overall cancer mortality. In contrast, progress slowed for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer reductions.
Progress in Rates of Mortality
Overall cancer death rates dropped by an average of 1.5% per year during the most recent decade of data (2008–2017), continuing a trend that began in the early 1990s and resulting in the 29% drop in cancer mortality in that time. The drop translates to approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred had mortality rates remained at their peak. Continuing declines in cancer mortality contrast with a stable trend for all other causes of death combined, reflecting a slowing decline for heart disease, stabilizing rates for cerebrovascular disease, and an increasing trend for accidents and Alzheimer disease.
Lung cancer death rates have dropped by 51% (since 1990) in men and by 26% (since 2002) in women, with the most rapid progress occurring in recent years. For example, reductions in mortality accelerated from 3% per year during 2008–2013 to 5% per year during 2013–2017 in men, and from 2% to almost 4% in women. However, lung cancer still accounts for almost one-quarter of all cancer deaths—more than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.
“The news this year is mixed. The exciting gains in reducing mortality for melanoma and lung cancer are tempered by slowing progress for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, which are amenable to early detection.”— Rebecca L. Siegel, MPH
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The most rapid declines in mortality occurred for melanoma of the skin, perhaps due to breakthrough treatments approved in 2011 that pushed 1-year survival for patients diagnosed with metastatic disease from 42% during 2008–2010 to 55% during 2013–2015. This progress is likewise reflected in the overall melanoma death rate, which dropped by 7% per year during 2013–2017 in people aged 20 to 64, compared to declines during 2006–2010 (prior to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of ipilimumab and vemurafenib) of 2% to 3% per year in those aged 20 to 49 and 1% per year in those aged 50 to 64. There were also mortality declines of 5% to 6% in individuals aged 65 and older, among whom rates were previously increasing.
“The news this year is mixed,” said Ms. Siegel, who is the lead author of the report. “The exciting gains in reducing mortality for melanoma and lung cancer are tempered by slowing progress for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, which are amenable to early detection. It’s a reminder that increasing our investment in the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions, as well as basic and clinical research to further advance treatment, would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer.”
More From the Report
More news from the report includes:
Other highlights include:
“The accelerated drops in lung cancer mortality as well as in melanoma that we're seeing are likely due at least in part to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy,” said William G. Cance, MD, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer for the American Cancer Society. “They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for [patients with cancer].”
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.