Cancer Death Rate in US Drops Over a 25-year Period

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Experts predict that more than 1.7 million people in the US will be diagnosed with cancer this year – nearly 5,000 cases every day – and more than 600,000 people will die from cancer. While the number of deaths in the US each year from cancer has consistently decreased over the past 25 years, potentially saving more than 2.6 million lives during that time period, death rates from some obesity-related cancers are increasing and are expected to influence future projections, according to a recent study.

The findings from the study, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, provide some of the most comprehensive cancer statistics to date. Data for the study came from the National Center for Health Statistics and were based on multiple national cancer registries and state and territory reports – some dating as far back as 1930.

While the overall rates of cancer are decreasing, some cancers, especially those that are obesity-related, such as cancers of the liver and pancreas, have increased.

In 2016, there were 156 cancer deaths for every 100,000 people, down from a rate of 215 cancer deaths per 100,000 people in 1991. Basing their findings on this this trend, the authors estimated that there would be 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths in 2019. They suggested that the decrease in deaths was likely due to higher early detection, advances in treatment, and reductions in the number of people who smoke. Even with the decrease, however, cancer is still the second most common cause of death in the US, with deaths from cancers of the lung, prostate, and breast leading the way.

And, while racial disparities in cancer diagnoses and deaths are decreasing, the authors noted that huge differences in survival still exist. Among African Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives, the relative risks of death after a cancer diagnosis are 33 percent and 51 percent, respectively, compared to whites.

Disparities based on socioeconomic status are increasing, however, because the burden of cancer deaths is greater in poorer counties. For example, the death rate among men with liver or lung cancer is more than 40 percent higher among those who live in poor counties. Some of these disparities can be attributed to behaviors that increase the risk of developing cancer, such as smoking and obesity, which are higher among poorer counties compared to wealthier counties.

While the overall rates of cancer are decreasing, some cancers, especially those that are obesity-related, such as cancers of the liver and pancreas, have increased. Between 2012 and 2016, the death rate for liver cancer rose 1.2 percent among men and 2.6 percent among women. The rate for pancreatic cancer rose to 0.3 percent among men. Pancreatic cancer is one the deadliest of all cancers, with a survival rate of just 9 percent. However, more than 70 percent of liver cancers may be preventable because many of its risk factors – including obesity, drinking alcohol, and smoking – are modifiable.

In addition, while the overall rate of breast cancer – another obesity-related cancer – has remained relatively stable in recent years, it increased slightly among Hispanic and African American women. The authors of the study suggested that this increase might be due in part to the increase in obesity rates, which are higher among those communities.

Scientific evidence indicates that at least 12 cancers are related to obesity. AICR recommends maintaining a healthy weight throughout life to reduce risk of developing cancer. Learn more about how obesity increases your risk of developing cancer. 

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    Published on January 24, 2019

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