The cancer mortality rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported, according to Cancer Statistics, 2020 - the latest edition of the American Cancer Society's annual report on cancer rates and trends.
The steady 26-year decline in overall cancer mortality is driven by long-term drops in death rates for the four major cancers - lung, colorectal, breast and prostate, although recent trends are mixed. The pace of mortality reductions for lung cancer - the leading cause of cancer death - accelerated in recent years (from 2% per year to 4% overall) spurring the record one-year drop in overall cancer mortality. In contrast, progress slowed for colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.
Overall cancer death rates dropped by an average of 1.5% per year during the most recent decade of data (2008-2017), continuing a trend that began in the early 1990s and resulting in the 29% drop in cancer mortality in that time. The drop translates to approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred had mortality rates remained at their peak. Continuing declines in cancer mortality contrast with a stable trend for all other causes of death combined, reflecting a slowing decline for heart disease, stabilising rates for cerebrovascular disease, and an increasing trend for accidents and Alzheimer disease.
Highlights from the report:
- The death rate for breast cancer dropped by 40% from 1989 to 2017.
- The death rate for prostate cancer dropped by 52% from 1993 to 2017.
- The death rate for colorectal cancer dropped by 53% from 1980 to 2017 among males and by 57% from 1969 to 2017 among females.
- Decades-long rapid increases in liver cancer mortality appear to be abating in both men and women.
- Cervical cancer, which is almost completely preventable, caused ten premature deaths per week in women ages 20-39 in 2017.
The overall cancer incidence rate in men declined rapidly from 2007 to 2014, but stabilized through 2016, reflecting slowing declines for colorectal cancer and stabilizing rates for prostate cancer. The overall cancer incidence rate in women has remained generally stable over the past few decades because lung cancer declines have been offset by a tapering decline for colorectal cancer and increasing or stable rates for other common cancers in women.
The slight rise in breast cancer incidence rates (by approximately 0.3% per year) since 2004 has been attributed at least in part to continued declines in the fertility rate and increased obesity, factors that may also contribute to increasing incidence for uterine cancer (1.3% per year from 2007-2016).
In contrast, colorectal cancer incidence patterns are generally similar in men and women, with the rapid declines noted during the 2000s in the wake of widespread colonoscopy uptake appearing to taper in more recent years.
Incidence continues to increase for cancers of the kidney, pancreas, liver, and oral cavity and pharynx (among non-Hispanic whites) and melanoma of the skin. Liver cancer is increasing most rapidly, by 2% to 3% annually during 2007 through 2016, although the pace has slowed from previous years.