Overall Cancer Mortality In US Has Decreased 33% Since 1991, CA Report Says- USA Today

January 15th, 2023

A report from the American Cancer Society released Thursday shows continued decreases in cancer deaths but health experts say more could be done regarding cancer prevention.

The organization’s annual Cancer Statistics projects over 1.95 million people will be diagnosed with cancer and nearly 610,000 will die of cancer in 2023, an uptick from 2022 projections.

Despite the slight increase, the ACS says the numbers represent a continued decline of cancer deaths: Mortality rates dropped by 1.5% from 2019 and 2020, and overall cancer mortality has decreased 33% since 1991, an estimated 3.8 million lives saved from cancer.

“The report as a whole shows us that we’re doing a great job finding cancer and treating it,” said Dr. Samuel Haywood, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic who is unaffiliated with the report.

Among the major findings: Lung and colorectal cancers cause the most deaths, prostate cancer is rising among men, and cervical cancer rates have seen an “astounding” drop  among young women.

There’s still a long way to go, health experts add. Here’s a look at the state of cancer in 2023.

Cancer Statistics: Key findings

American Cancer Society researchers looked at cancer incidence and death rates from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Database, and the U.S. Cancer Statistics database from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After analyzing the data, they found:

  • Cancer accounted for 18% of the 3.3 million recorded deaths in 2020, the latest year data is available, and is the second leading cause of death after heart disease.
  • The 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined has increased from 49% for diagnoses during the mid-1970s to 68% for diagnoses during 2012 through 2018.
  • Survival is highest for thyroid cancer (98%), prostate (97%), testis (95%) and melanoma (94%).
  • Survival is lowest for pancreas (12%), and liver and esophagus (21%).

Lung and colorectal cancers cause the most deaths

The American Cancer Society projects more men and women will die from lung and colorectal cancer, compared to any other cancer, in 2023.

While lung cancer death rates dropped by 58% from 1990 to 2020 in men and by 36% from 2002 to 2020 in women, researchers say it’s still the leading cause of cancer mostly due to smoking:

  • Approximately 81% of the 127,010 estimated deaths from lung cancer in 2023 will be caused by cigarette smoking directly, the report estimates.
  • An additional 3,560 lung cancer deaths will be caused by second-hand smoke.

Meanwhile, researchers estimate 52,550 people will die from colorectal cancer in 2023.

While mortality rates have been dropping overall up until 2020 – by 55% among men since 1980 and 61% in women since 1969 – deaths among people younger than 50 have increased by 1.2% annually from 2005 to 2020.

Experts say colon cancer is increasing among people under 40 for reasons that are not well understood. But still, the overall risk for colon cancer is small and falling, Dr. Gil Welch, a senior researcher at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told USA TODAY last year.

Concerning trend: Prostate cancer is on the rise

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men in the United States, and the progress made since 2014 toward reducing rates has recently reversed, the report said.

  • Prostate cancer increased by 3% annually from 2014 through 2019.
  • Health experts say deaths may be driven by the diagnosis of advance disease, which the report showed increased by 4% to 5% each year.
  • Before, prostate cancer had dropped by about 40% from 2007 to 2014 due to early diagnosis through screening.

“These findings have been exacerbated by the pandemic, when men were not getting health care regularly,” Haywood said. “I’m seeing in our practice definitely more men with more aggressive and advanced stage cancer.”

Cervical cancer sees ‘astounding’ drop among young women

Researchers, meanwhile, have highlighted an “astounding” drop in cervical cancer in young women since 2012.

  • The report found a 65% reduction in cervical cancer rates in women ages 20 to 24 from 2012 through 2019.
  • Rates continue to decline about 2% annually in Black, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander women 50 and older.

Health experts attribute the progress to routine screening and the HPV vaccine. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer, according to ACS.

“It’s an extraordinary reduction in cervical cancer, which speaks to the impact of the HPV vaccine,” Dr. Jolyn Taylor, assistant professor of gynecologic oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “As long as women can access care and follow the recommended guidelines, we hope to see low incidences overall for cervical cancer.”

Key takeaways: Screenings and disparities

Health experts argue more must be done to catch cancer early, especially as research shows cancer screening took a nose dive during the pandemic. 

“What you might see is that if there’s less screening then there’s likely to be less cancer diagnoses because you’re not looking (for it),” said Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society. “That’s really the concern, that we’ll see cancer rates decrease initially … Cancer rates will then recover but the people that present with cancer will have disease that we can’t easily treat.”

The report also highlighted the need to address racial and ethnic disparities in cancer prevention and death, health experts say.

Prostate cancer in Black men is 70% higher than in white men, for example, while breast cancer deaths among Black women are 40% higher than white women.

“If you have scientific advances, it’s not going to make a difference across the board unless everyone across the board has access to it,” said Dr. Larry Norton, senior vice president and medical director at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

 Adrianna Rodriguez USA TODAY