Cancer Deaths Drop 22% in 20 Years: Are We Winning the War on Cancer?

January 10, 2015 Updated: January 10, 2015

Here’s some good health news to start off the new year — cancer deaths have declined by about 22% during the past two decades. According to The American Cancer Society (ACS), if rates continued as they had in the peak years, there would have been about 1.5 million more deaths due to cancer.

Smoking takes the blame for the high rate of lung cancer deaths during those peak years. Fortunately, fewer of us are smoking these days. For men, death due to lung cancer decreased 36% between 1990 and 2011. For women, lung cancer deaths decreased by 11% between 2002 and 2011.

We also have learned a lot about cancer prevention, and we’ve gotten better at early detection and treatment. Some other interesting facts from the ACS report:

  • In the United States, cancer deaths have gone down in every state, but vary regionally. For example, states in the Northeast have had larger declines than those in the South.
  • The decline from 2007 to 2011 was 1.8% for men and 1.4% for women, reflecting declining death rates for lung, breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
  • The breast cancer death rate for women is down 35% from peak rates.
  • Prostate cancer and colorectal cancer death rates are down by 47%.

We’ve made great strides, that’s for sure, but we haven’t won the war on cancer. The ACS estimates that in 2015:

  • There will be 1,658,370 new cancer cases in the United States.
  • There will be 589,430 cancer deaths — that’s about 1,600 a day.
  • Prostate cancer will represent about 25% of new diagnoses in men. Lung and colorectal cancers will make up another 25%.
  • For women, 50% of new cancer diagnoses will be breast (29%), lung, or colorectal cancer.

“The continuing drops we’re seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, in a press release. The chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society went on to say, “Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79, and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years. The change may be inevitable, but we can still lessen cancer’s deadly impact by making sure as many Americans as possible have access to the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat cancer.”

The ACS uses data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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*Image of girl with hair loss due to chemotherapy via Shutterstock