Cancer Deaths Continue a Steep Decline

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From 1991 to 2015, the cancer death rate dropped about 1.5 percent a year, resulting in a total decrease of 26 percent — 2,378,600 fewer deaths than would have occurred had the rate remained at its peak.

The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2018, there will be 1,735,350 new cases of cancer and 609,640 deaths.

The latest report on cancer statistics appears in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The most common cancers — in men, tumors of the prostate; in women, breast — are not the most common causes of cancer death. Although prostate cancer accounts for 19 percent of cancers in men and breast cancer for 30 percent of cancers in women, the most common cause of cancer death in both sexes is lung cancer, which accounts for one-quarter of cancer deaths in both sexes.

In women, 14 percent of deaths are from breast cancer, 7 percent from pancreatic cancer, and 5 percent from cancer of the ovaries.

In men, prostate cancer causes 9 percent of deaths, while 7 percent are due to pancreatic cancer and 6 percent to liver cancer. In both sexes, 8 percent of deaths are from colon and rectal cancer.

Cancer incidence in men rose sharply in the 1990s because of the widespread use of P.S.A. testing, which detected large numbers of asymptomatic prostate cancers. Rates of lung cancer in women are now approaching the levels in men.

Over the past decade, cancer incidence in men has dropped by about 2 percent a year, while it has remained the same in women. There are two reasons, researchers said.

First, there has been a decline in male lung cancer because fewer men are smoking, and a decline in colorectal cancer because of men’s increasing use of colonoscopy. Second, from 2008 to 2013, prostate cancer diagnoses declined with the decreasing use of P.S.A. testing.

“We’re making progress in reducing death rates from cancer because of improvements in treatment and early detection,” said the senior author, Ahmedin Jemal, a vice president of the American Cancer Society. “But prevention is the low-hanging fruit. We still have 40 million adult smokers in the U.S., which accounts for nearly a third of cancers.”