2012 Cancer Stats and Trends

Cancer mortality rates continue to decline

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

A cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. More people are living beyond cancer than ever before. That's the great news.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that cancer mortality has been declining for years now.

In its report Cancer Statistics 2012,  we learn that deaths from this dreaded disease have decreased for men and women of every race and ethnic origin except American Indians and Alaska Natives, in whom the rates have remained stable.

Some cancers, however, are on the rise and racial disparities continue to be a problem

This report summarizes a decade data - 1999-2008 and shows cancer death rates started falling for men in 1990 and for women in 1991. This translates into more than a million lives spared - or as the ACS says deaths avoided - since that time.

Every year, the American Cancer Society compiles statistics regarding the estimates of the number of new cancer diagnoses and deaths in the United States. These estimates are based on the most recent numbers from the National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These statistics are reported by the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics to create Cancer Facts & Figures 2012.

Report highlights

  • An estimated 1,638,910 Americans will learn they have cancer in 2012, and 577,190 people won't win their battle against the disease.
  • Cancer is diagnosed in more black men who succumb to the disease in greater numbers than white men.
  • Fewer black  women are diagnosed with cancer than white women but more black women die from it.
  • African Americans don't live as long after a cancer diagnosis as white people, regardless of type or stage.
  • Other minority groups tend to have fewer cases of cancer and live longer after diagnosis than white or black Americans.
  • Cancers that are related to infectious agents, i.e., HPV (human papillomavirus) - cervical, stomach and liver - are more common in minorities than in Caucasians.

Declining deaths

  • The biggest declines in mortality rates are being seen in African American and Hispanic men.
  • Fewer people are dying from the four major cancers - lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.
  • Lung cancer deaths among men are down by almost 40 percent.
  • Deaths from breast cancer have decreased by 34 percent among women.

Some cancers on the rise

While the overall incidence of the most common cancers continues to decline, several cancers have been on the rise during the past decade. These include cancers of:

  • Pancreas
  • Liver
  • Thyroid
  • Kidney
  • Melanoma
  • Esophagus
  • Oral cancers associated with HPV


  • The biggest increases in HPV-related oral cancers are among people aged 55 to 64.
  • Melanoma is on the rise among individuals 65 and older.
  • Interestingly, the number of HPV-related oral cancers among men and thyroid cancer in women is higher in the 55-64 age range than in those 65+.
  • HPV-related oral cancer, esophageal cancer and melanoma increased only in white Americans; Hispanic men also saw an increase in esophageal adenocarcinoma.
  • Liver cancers rose among white, black and Hispanic men and African American women only.
  • Thyroid and kidney cancers increased in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, with the exception of American Indian/Alaska Native men.

Explaining the increases

The growing numbers of certain cancers can't be fully explained. However, some of the increased incidence of esophageal, pancreatic, liver and kidney cancers may be tied to the increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States. Early screening practices may also account for some of the increases.

Setting standards

Graham A. Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, said, "This American Cancer Society report again sets the standard for our progress in cancer prevention and outcomes. Importantly, the incidence of some cancers known to be caused by obesity continue to rise, while death rates from lung cancer decreased, Dr. Colditz told dailyRx.

He concluded, "These and other data in this report point to successes and also highlight the importance of continuing efforts to prevent cancer as a primary means of reducing the societal impact of this disease." 

Reviewed by: 
Last Updated:
April 18, 2012