US cancer death rates report reveals sharpest ever single-year decline

A newly published report from the American Cancer Society has shone a light on increases in cancer survival rates over the past few decades, citing a 29 percent drop in overall mortality rates between 1991 and 2017 in the US. The steady decline is attributed to a range of factors, with the period examined including the sharpest one-year decline ever recorded.

The figures come from the society’s “Cancer Statistics, 2020” report and paint a picture of long-term decline in mortality rates from common types of cancer. Reduction in mortality from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death, was a significant driver in the overall trend, with death rates declining by 51 percent between 1990 and 2017 in men, and 26 percent between 2002 and 2017 in women. According to the report, this was due to lower smoking rates, improved early detection methods and advances in treatment. But the sharpest drops of all were observed in melanoma skin cancer, which saw death rates drop by seven percent between 2013 and 2017. The authors credit new immunotherapy drugs as part of the reason for this decline.

“The accelerated drops in lung cancer mortality as well as in melanoma that we’re seeing are likely due at least in part to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy,” says William G. Cance, MD, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society. “They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients.”

Other significant declines in death rates were observed for breast cancer which dropped 40 percent between 1989 and 2017, prostate cancer, which dropped 52 percent between 1993 and 2017 and colorectal cancer, which declined by 53 percent in men between 1980 and 2017 and 57 percent in women between 1969 and 2017. These, together with lung cancer, are the four most common cancer types.

Among all of this was an average decline in overall cancer deaths of 1.5 percent per year between 2008 and 2017. The trend equates to more than 2.9 million lives saved since 1991, when cancer mortality was at its highest.

The 2.2 percent decline from 2016 and 2017 was the largest single-year drop ever recorded.