U.S. Cancer Deaths Drop 33% in 30 Years


Cancer Patient Wit Doctor | Image by NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock

Cancer deaths in the U.S. have continuously declined over the past three decades, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The report — published on Thursday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians — estimated that overall cancer deaths are down 33% since 1991, corresponding to an estimated 3.8 million cancer deaths averted.

The report attributes this steady progress to improvements in cancer treatment, reductions in smoking, and increases in early detection.

This trend continued in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, with another 1.5% decrease in mortality rates compared to 2019.

In their report, researchers from the ACS pointed to HPV vaccinations as being connected to the reductions in cancer deaths.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical and other types of cancer. The Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for the virus in 2006 for girls and women ages 9 to 26.

The youngest in that group are now adults, and cervical cancer rates for women in their early 20s have dropped significantly.

Among women in their early 20s, there was a 65% drop in cervical cancer rates from 2012 through 2019, “which totally follows the time when HPV vaccines were put into use,” said Dr. William Dahut, the society’s chief scientific officer.

“There are other cancers that are HPV-related — whether that’s head and neck cancers or anal cancers — so there’s optimism this will have importance beyond this,” he added.

Two times more deaths were averted among men than women — about 2.6 million compared to about 1.2 million — which the study attributed to a higher peak and faster decline in the death rate among men.

Men still have a higher mortality rate from cancer than women and a higher lifetime probability of being diagnosed with any invasive cancer at 40.9% to 39.1% for women in the U.S., according to the new report.

The study noted that a drop in mortality rates from lung cancer has been a driver of the trend. However, lung cancer remains among the most deadly forms of cancer, holding the highest death rate for both men and women.

Despite the decreases, cancer is still the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease, with 2 million new cancer cases — the equivalent of about 5,000 cases a day — and more than 600,000 cancer deaths estimated to occur in 2023, the ACS said.

Obesity is a severe risk factor for heart disease as well as cancer. Over 40% of adults in the U.S. are considered obese, which puts them at higher risk for the two leading causes of death. The epidemic is severe in Texas especially, where six metros rank among the top 30 most obese metros in the U.S.

White House Cancer Moonshot Coordinator Dr. Danielle Carnival responded to the report with a statement, calling it “great progress.”

“The report showing the U.S. has cut cancer deaths by one-third over the last 30 years is great progress, which we’ve achieved through driving smoking rates down, improving early detection, and delivering better treatments for many cancers,” said Carnival. “It means millions of American families have been spared the immeasurable loss of a loved one.”

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