Cancer: Living Better, Living Longer

US cancer death rate continued overall decline

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Since the peak of cancer mortality in 1991, there have been countless advances in treatment and preventive health. And those advances may be starting to pay off.

The death rate from cancer in the US remains in a steady decline, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS). While this decline translates to a 23 percent drop in the cancer death rate between 1991 and 2012, there's still plenty of work to be done, researchers said.

"We're gratified to see cancer death rates continuing to drop," said Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the ACS, in a press release. "But the fact that cancer is nonetheless becoming the top cause of death in many populations is a strong reminder that the fight is not over."

Dr. Brawley added, "Cancer is in fact a group of more than 100 diseases, some amenable to treatment; some stubbornly resistant. So while the average American's chances of dying from the disease are significantly lower now than they have been for previous generations, it continues to be all-too-often the reason for shortened lives, and too much pain and suffering."

Indeed, in its report, the ACS estimated that the US will see 1,685,210 new cancer cases and 595,690 cancer deaths in 2016.

The authors of this new report, led by Rebecca L. Siegel, MPH, director of surveillance information with the ACS, cited many possible reasons for the decline in cancer deaths. These included reduced smoking rates, new medications, better detection methods and more insight into prevention.

"I believe that new cancer medications, along with public awareness and earlier diagnosis, have helped in the reductions in cancer deaths," said Tucker D. Simmons, PharmD, pharmacist and owner at Beauregard Drugs in Opelika, AL, in an interview with RxWiki News. "These new drugs allow the physician to tailor therapy towards a specific patient."

Dr. Simmons, who was not involved in the new report, added, "These new medications help decrease unwanted side effects and toxicities which can cause a patient not to be compliant and stop a medication regimen which then goes essentially untreated."

The largest reductions in cancer mortality were seen in colorectal, prostate, breast and lung cancers, Siegel and colleagues found. Colorectal and prostate cancer death rates dropped by around 50 percent. Breast cancer mortality dropped by around 36 percent between 1989 and 2012. And, between 2002 and 2012, lung cancer mortality decreased by about 13 percent. For men, that figure was 38 percent between 1990 and 2012.

While the death rate from cancer has declined, overall cancer case numbers have remained relatively stable. For women, rates have stayed steady. For men, overall cancer rates declined by 3.1 percent per year between 2009 and 2012. This may be largely due to reduced prostate cancer diagnosis, Siegel and team noted.

This report was published Jan. 7 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The authors disclosed no outside funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 6, 2016
Last Updated:
January 7, 2016