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January 9, 2017

Report: US cancer death rate declined 25 percent since 1991

Daily Briefing

The U.S. cancer death rate has dropped by 25 percent since 1991, according to an American Cancer Society (ACS) report released Thursday.

Death rates falling

According to the report, the decrease in the U.S. cancer death rate means about 2.1 million fewer cancer deaths occurred between 1991 and 2014 than would have been expected if mortality rates for various cancers had remained at their peaks. The report attributed the declines to reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment of cancer.

Overall, the cancer death rate declined by about 1.5 percent annually between 1991 and 2014 among both men and women, AFP reports. The report identified the largest declines in death rates by cancer type over several years, finding that death rates fell by:

  • 51 percent among both men and women with colon cancer between 1976 and 2014;
  • 51 percent among men with prostate cancer between 1993 and 2014;
  • 43 percent among men with lung cancer between 1990 and 2014, as well as by 17 percent among women with lung cancer between 2002 and 2014; and
  • 38 percent among women with breast cancer between 1989 and 2014.

Still, cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, according to CDC. The report noted that incidence and mortality rates of other cancers, including melanoma and pancreatic and liver cancers, have either increased or remained steady.

Disparities remain, but some are decreasing

While overall death rates are falling, the report found certain disparities in cancer incidence and mortality rates, particularly by gender. For example, cancer incidence is 20 percent higher, and the cancer death rate is 40 percent higher, among men.

The report attributed the disparity to how certain risk factors, such as smoking and drinking, affect men and women differently.

The report also found that black individuals had a higher cancer death rate than white individuals. However, that disparity has been falling in recent years. According to the report, the higher death rate among black men compared with white men fell from 47 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2014. Overall, the five-year survival rate for all cancers increased by 20 percentage points among whites and 24 percentage points among blacks over the past three decades.

The report attributed the shrinking racial disparity to coverage gains made under the Affordable Care Act, noting that the uninsured rate among blacks fell from 21 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in 2015.

Future projections

The report projected that nearly 1.7 million U.S. residents will be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2017, and an estimated 600,920 likely will die from cancer in 2017. In comparison, data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 591,699 individuals died from cancer in 2014.

While certain cancer rates have been falling, a continuous downward trend is not guaranteed, TIME reports. For example, report lead author Rebecca Siegel, strategic director of surveillance information services at ACS, said it is unclear what effect increasing obesity rates will have on cancer death rates. Obesity is a risk factor for cancer.

"We don't know when we're going to see the effects of the tripling of the obesity rate in the past several decades," Siegel said. She added that while rates of colorectal cancer, which is linked to obesity, are falling overall, they are increasing among individuals younger than age 50.

Still, ACS CMO Otis Brawley said, "The continuing drops in the cancer death rate are a powerful sign of the potential we have to reduce cancer's deadly toll" (McGinley, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 1/5; Healy, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 1/5; Oaklander, TIME, 1/5; AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/5; Sisson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/5; Siegel et al., CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, December 2016).

What they value: Five types of cancer patients

Cancer patients have more choices for their care than ever before. To attract patients in this fiercely competitive landscape, you must invest your limited resources in the right services—ones that will earn patients' trust and improve their experience.

Oncology Roundtable's analysis of our 2015 Cancer Patient Experience Survey revealed five distinct patient types—each with unique characteristics and preferences for their care. Our infographic is your guide to understanding the five types of patients and what they value in a cancer provider.


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