Cancer Deaths Are Falling, But Some Cancers Are On The Rise

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Each year the American Cancer Society compiles a report of the latest cancer statistics in the United States. The report identifies trends, areas of improvement, and areas of concern. In the 2019 report, the news is mostly good.

Overall, cancer deaths are falling and the disparity of cancer incidence between ethnic groups is narrowing. But there are a few types of cancer that are on the rise, and the incidence gap between socioeconomic groups is actually widening. Here’s an overall look at the fight against cancer in the United States:

The big picture

The American Cancer Society collected cancer incidence data (available through 2015) and cancer mortality data (available through 2016). Here are major findings:

  • Based on current rates, 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the US in 2019.
  • Overall, the cancer death rate has dropped 27 percent from 1991 to 2016.
  • The cancer incidence rate stayed stable for women from 2006 to 2015 but declined for men by about 2 percent each year.
  • The racial gap in cancer mortality rate is narrowing, but the rate between socioeconomic groups is getting bigger, and the most notable gaps occurred for the most preventable cancers.

Cancer in men and women

While the rate of new cancer diagnoses stayed the same for women but decreased for men, the death rate declined for both sexes from 2007 to 2016 by 1.4 percent for women and 1.8 percent for men.

  • The most common cancers in men are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer. Those three account for 42 percent of all cancer cases in men. Prostate cancer alone accounts for nearly one-fifth of new cancer cases.
  • The most common cancers in women are breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. Those three account for about half of all cancer cases in women. Breast cancer alone accounts for 30 percent of new cancer cases.
  • One-quarter of cancer deaths in the United States are due to lung cancer.
  • Death rates from lung cancer declined 48 percent among men and 23 percent among women from 1990 to 2016. Part of that difference comes from the historical trend of women picking up smoking later than men and being slower to quit.
  • In women, the death rate from breast cancer declined 40 percent from 1989 to 2016, which is attributed to more early detection.

Cancer in children

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages one to 14 in the United States, after accidents. Leukemia accounts for nearly a third of cancer in children. The cancer incidence rate in children has increased slightly (0.7 percent) since 1975, but the five-year survival rate has improved from 58 percent between 1975 and 1977, to 83 percent between 2008 and 2014.

Cancer in the elderly

This year, the American Cancer Society included a special section highlighting cancer in the nation’s “oldest old,” those 85 years and older. This groups represents the fastest-growing age group in the United States.

  • Cancer in those 86 and older represents 8 percent of all new cancer diagnoses.
  • Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in this age group, after heart disease.
  • Those 85 and older also represent the fastest-growing group of cancer survivors.

Overall

Overall, the news is good. The cancer death rate has gone down 27 percent from its peak in 1991 to 2016. If the death rate had remained steady, we would have lost over 2.6 million more people to cancer during that time.

Most of the decline in mortality is attributed to improved treatment, early detection, and reductions in smoking. The chance of being diagnosed with cancer over a lifetime is 39.3 percent for men and 37.7 percent for women. The rate of liver cancer is growing faster than any other type, and rates of melanoma skin cancer, thyroid cancer, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer are growing as well.

Those living in the poorest counties of the United States are harder hit by cancer and less able to cope. Between 2012 and 2016, the cervical cancer death rate was two times higher in the poorest counties and 40 percent higher for male lung and liver cancers, as compared with the richest counties. Those living in poverty are less likely to get routine cancer screenings and get the best treatment and are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease.

View the full cancer statistics report for 2019 here.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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