Reports: Cancer rates continue downward trend

As of 2009, the overall death rate for cancer in the United States had declined 20% from its peak in 1991. That decrease translated to the avoidance of approximately 1.2 million deaths from cancer, including 152,900 in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society’s annual “Cancer Statistics” report.

Cancer death rates decreased from their peak of 215.1 per 100,000 in 1991 to 173.1 per 100,000 in 2009. Death rates continue to decline for all four major cancer sites: lung, colon and rectum, breast and prostate.

Over the past two decades, death rates have decreased from their peak by more than 30% for cancers of the colorectum, female breast and male lung, and by more than 40% for prostate cancer. These large drops primarily are due to reductions in smoking for lung cancer and to improvements in early detection and treatment for colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, according to the researchers.

As encouraging as those drops are, the authors said, further progress can be accelerated by applying existing cancer control knowledge across all segments of the population, with an emphasis on those groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket and other underserved populations.

According to the study, a total of 1,660,290 new cancer cases and 580,350 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States in 2013. Among men, cancers of the prostate, lung and bronchus and colorectum will account for half of all newly diagnosed cancers; prostate cancer alone will account for 28% (238,590) of incident cases in men.

Among women, the three most commonly diagnosed types of cancer in 2013 will be breast, lung and bronchus and colorectum, accounting for about half of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29% (232,340) of all new cancer cases among women.

Although incidence rates are declining for most cancer sites, they are increasing among both men and women for melanoma of the skin and cancers of the liver, thyroid and pancreas. Overall cancer incidence rates decreased slightly in males (by 0.6% per year) and were stable in females during the most recent five-year period for which there is data (2005-09).

Cancers of the lung and bronchus, prostate and colorectum in men and cancers of the lung and bronchus, breast and colorectum in women continue to be the most common causes of cancer death. These four cancers account for almost half of the total cancer deaths among men and women. In 2013, lung cancer is expected to account for 26% of all female cancer deaths and 28% of all male cancer deaths.

Cancer death rates decreased by 1.8% per year in males and by 1.5% per year in females during the most recent five years of data (2005-09). These declines have been consistent since 2001 and 2002 in men and women, respectively, and are larger in magnitude than those occurring during the previous decade. Between 1990-91 and 2009, cancer death rates decreased by 24% in men, 16% in women and 20% overall.

While highlighting the 20% lower risk of death from cancer in 2009 compared with 1991, John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said stakeholders “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.”

Spotlighting pancreatic cancer

Each year, “Cancer Facts & Figures” includes a special section, which in 2013 focuses on cancer of the pancreas. A lack of progress in primary prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of this cancer motivated the authors to address the disease in this year’s report.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancer types, with most patients dying within the first year of diagnosis and only 6% surviving five years. Over the past decade, pancreatic cancer death rates have been slowly increasing among U.S. men and women, in contrast to the downward trend in rates for most other major cancer sites.

The special section provides updated information on the occurrence and treatment of pancreatic cancer to inform researchers, cancer control advocates, policymakers and others, and to help focus attention on this fatal cancer.


Each year, the American Cancer Society estimates the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the United States in the current year and compiles the most recent data on cancer incidence, mortality and survival based on incidence data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The data are disseminated in two reports, “Cancer Facts & Figures 2013” and its companion article, “Cancer Statistics 2013.”

“Cancer Facts & Figures” is available at, and “Cancer Statistics” is available as an online article in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians at

The reports were released about two weeks after a joint report by the American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute and North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, which also found declines in cancer incidence and deaths (

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