Cancer Death Rates Down 20 Percent Over Past 20 Years
January 18, 2013

Cancer Death Rates Down 20 Percent Over Past 20 Years

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A new study from the American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed that cancer mortality decreased 20 percent from its peak in 1991; the organization believes that the drop is a milestone, with an estimated 1.2 million deaths of cancer avoided.

The findings were recently reported in ACS's yearly Cancer Statistics report, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. ACS provides estimates of the new cancer cases and deaths expected in the current year in two reports, “Cancer Facts & Figures” and the companion article “Cancer Statistics.” They utilized data from the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to compile the data of cancer incidence, mortality, and survival. They also obtained data form the National Center for Health Statistics to prepare the statistics on mortality.

The most recent report stated that the peak of cancer death rates was 215.1 per 100,000 in 1991; in 2009, it declined to 173.1 per 100,000. The rates of death continued to decrease for all four major cancers, including colon and rectum (colorectum), breast, lung, and prostate. In particular, over the last 20 years, the death rates for cancers of the colorectum, female breast, and male lung have decreased by over 30 percent. In addition, the death rate has decreased by over 40 percent for prostate cancer during the same time. The researchers believe that the large reductions were mostly due to the decline in smoking for lung cancer as well as better detection and treatment in regards to breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

Though cancer rates are decreasing in colorectum, breast, lung, and prostate, there is an increase in incidence of melanoma of the skin and cancers of the liver, thyroid, and pancreas for both males and females.

Based on these findings, the scientists are positive that continued progress of lowering cancer deaths can be maintained by promoting existing cancer control knowledge. They believe that this knowledge should especially be outreached to individuals who are in the lowest socioeconomic class, along with other groups who are hard hit or under-served.

"In 2009, Americans had a 20% lower risk of death from cancer than they did in 1991, a milestone that shows we truly are creating more birthdays," explained John R. Seffrin, who serves as the chief executive officer of the ACS, in a prepared statement.

"But we must also recognize that not all demographic groups have benefited equally from these gains, particularly those diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer, where earlier detection and better treatments are credited for the improving trends. We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged," added Seffrin.

The paper also highlighted the cancer of the pancreas in a special section. The authors of the report decided to spotlight this particular cancer as there is less progress being made in the early diagnoses, treatment, and prevention of pancreatic cancer. They note in the section that many pancreatic cancer patients die within a year of cancer diagnosis, and only six percent will survive the five years following the diagnosis.

Other groups have also advocated for increased research on pancreatic cancer. A report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) stated that there was evidence to support preventive methods against pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, the researchers noted that individuals who were obese or overweight had a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

“With the recent news that pancreatic cancer rates are on the rise, this report should be seen as a wake-up call,” commented Dr. Elisa Bandera, a Continuous Update Project Panel Member of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), in a prepared statement. “It´s still another example of the severe toll the obesity epidemic is taking on our health.”