Cancer Death Rates Down 29% Driven By Lung Cancer Mortality Declines

The decline in cancer deaths from 2016 to 2017 was the biggest dip ever recorded in a single year.
Donna Fuscaldo

Cancer deaths in the U.S. have declined 29% over the course of 26 years, with a reduction in lung cancer deaths driving the decline. 

According to data released by the American Cancer Society which tracked the number of cancer deaths from 1991 to 2017, the number of deaths dipped 2.2% from 2016 to 2017. It was the biggest decline in a single year ever recorded, the non-profit said. 

The data was published in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.



Smoke cessation working 

The American Cancer Society attributed the decline in cancer deaths to drops in the death rates of the leading cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.

Lung cancer death reductions which drove the declines were the result of fewer people smoking, early detection and treatment. Improvements in reducing the number of deaths from colorectal, breast and prostate cancers during the 26 years slowed the American Cancer Society found.

From 1990 to 2017 lung cancer rates declined 51% among men and 26% from 2002 to 2017 for women.

Breast cancer death rates dipped 40% from 1989 to 2017 for women while prostate cancer death rates fell 52% from 1993 to 2017 for men. Women experienced 57% fewer deaths from colorectal cancer from 1969 to 2017 while men saw a 53% decline from 1980 to 2017.

Skin cancer death declines due in part to new drugs

Of all cancers, the American Cancer Society found the biggest decline in deaths of people with melanoma skin cancer. The nonprofit attributed that in part to the immunotherapy drugs Yervoy (ipilimumab) and Zelboraf (vemurafenib), which the FDA approved in 2011. 

The death rate from skin cancer fell 7% annually from 2013 through 2017 in those aged between 20 and 64. 

“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,” said William G. Cance, MD, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, in a press release. “They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients.”

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