Overall cancer death rates have fallen in the United States

Sep 20, 2018
Overall cancer death rates have fallen in the United States

More people are surviving cancer than ever before in the United States, showing that early detection and effective intervention are making a difference.

The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Annual Report to the Nation on Status of Cancer looked at both incident and death rates across cancers.1

It found overall incidence rates fell by 2.2% a year among men between 2008 and 2014, while remaining stable among women. Between 1999 and 2015, deaths from cancer fell by 1.8% among men and 1.4% among women.

“This year’s report is an encouraging indicator of the progress we’re making in cancer research,” said NCI Director, Dr. Ned Sharpless.

“As overall death rates continue to decline for all major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, it’s clear that interventions are having an impact.”

The report, a collaboration between the NCI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR), was published in Cancer in May.

A companion study2 drilled down into prostate cancer trends and found that overall incidence rates declined by an average of 6.5% a year from 2007 to 2014.

The authors point to a substantial decrease in the use of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. The drop follows the US Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendation against routine screening for men aged 75 and older in 2008, and for all ages in 2012.

Dr. Serban Negoita, of NCI’s Surveillance Research Program and lead author of the prostate cancer report said: “An increase in late-stage disease and the flattening of the mortality trend occurred contemporaneously with the observed decrease in PSA screening in the population.

“Although suggestive, this observation does not demonstrate that one caused the other, as there are many factors that contribute to incidence and mortality such as improvements in staging and treating cancer.”

Dr. Sharpless added that the report, which describes five-year survival from four of the most common cancers when diagnosed at Stage 4 between 2007-2013, highlighted where more work was needed.

While five-year survival is high in early-stage disease for breast cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma, survival remains low for all stages of lung cancer, ranging from 55% for Stage 1 to just 4% in Stage 4.

“This report underscores that if cancer is caught early, when it has the best chance of being treated, patients can live longer. Early detection and timely, quality treatment are keys to saving lives,” said CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

Death rates continue to increase for several cancers, including pancreatic which has been linked to high levels of obesity in the United States.

“It’s encouraging to see progress in decreasing death rates for many types of cancer,” said Betsy Kohler, Executive Director of NAACCR.

“Yet the fact that death rates from several cancers are still on the rise means we need to keep working to find strategies to encourage prevention and continue to make improvements in screening and treatment.”

Dr. Sharpless concluded that further improvements were possible.

“With steadfast commitment to patients and their families, we will be able to lower the mortality rates faster and improve the lives of those affected by cancer,” he said.


  1. Cronin KA, Lake AJ, Scott S, Sherman RL, Noone AM, Howlader N, Henley SJ, Anderson RN, Firth AU, Ma J, Kohler BA, Jemal A. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, part I: National cancer statistics. Cancer 2018; 124:2785-2800.
  2. Negoita S, Feuer EJ, Mariotto A, Cronin KA, Petkov VI, Hussey SK, Benard V, Henley SJ, Anderson RN, Fedewa S, Sherman RL, Kohler BA, Dearmon BJ, Lake AJ, Ma J, Richardson LC, Jemal A, Penberthy L. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, part II: Recent changes in prostate cancer trends and disease characteristics. Cancer 2018; 124:2801-2814.
Overall cancer death rates have fallen in the United States

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