The Grapevine

Cancer Death Rates In US Declining Overall, Report Finds

A new annual report revealed a continuing decline in the overall cancer death rates in the United States. The trend was observed in men, women, and children of all major races and ethnicities.

The report is a collaborative effort between the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR). The findings were published online in Cancer on May 22.

"This year's report is an encouraging indicator of progress we're making in cancer research. 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," said Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the NCI. "The report also highlights areas where more work is needed. 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."

From 1999 to 2015, it was found that overall cancer death rates decreased by an annual rate of 1.8 percent among men and 1.4 percent among women. Additionally, incidence (the rates of new cancers) decreased in men and was stable in women over the same period. 

From 2011 to 2015, death rates decreased for 11 of the 18 most common cancer types in men and for 14 of the 20 most common cancer types in women. The mortality rate of prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer affecting men in the U.S., stabilized after two decades of decline from 1993 to 2013. Trends concerning prostate cancer were explored in further detail in a companion study.

Previously, experts linked the improved survival rates to the introduction of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures PSA levels in the blood. Men who experience prostate cancer symptoms opt for the test as high PSA levels are often an indicator of prostate cancer.

But based on national surveys, the study reported a decline in recent PSA screening between the 2010 and 2013 for men between 50 and 74 years of age, and after 2008 for men aged 75 and older. Simultaneously, the researchers observed the aforementioned "flattening of the mortality trend" as well as an "increase in late-stage disease."

"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," said Dr. Serban Negoita from the NCI Surveillance Research Program who was the lead author of the prostate cancer report. "Additional research is needed to get a more comprehensive understanding of the recent trends and the possible relationship with PSA screening, as well as the relationship with other factors that may be associated with these trends."

The study also noted an increase in death rates for cancers of the liver, pancreas, and brain in both men and women. The researchers suspected the increase in liver cancer deaths to be tied to the high prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection among Baby Boomers. On the other hand, obesity was regarded as a factor in the rise in death rates from cancers of the uterus and pancreas.