Report: Cancer death rates declined between 2001 and 2017

In the midst of an otherwise unsettling week on the health front, researchers provided a glimmer of good news: Cancer deaths have continued to drop.

In the "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer" published in the journal Cancer, researchers found overall cancer death rates decreased 1.5% on average per year from 2001 to 2017. Cancer rates decreased more rapidly among men (1.8% annually) than among women (1.4% annually).

The report—which is a collaborative effort among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries—found that overall cancer death rates decreased in every racial and ethnic group between 2013 and 2017. 

“The United States continues to make significant progress in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., in a statement. “While we are encouraged that overall cancer death rates have decreased, there is still much more we can do to prevent new cancers and support communities, families, and cancer survivors in this ongoing battle.”

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The report also found between 2013 and 2017:

  • Death rates decreased for 11 of the 19 most common cancers and were stable for four cancers among men, including prostate. However, death rates among men increased for four cancers including oral cavity and pharynx, soft tissue including heart, brain and other nervous system, and pancreas.
  • Death rates dropped for 14 of the 20 most common cancers among women , including the three most common cancers of lung and bronchus, breast and colorectal. Deaths from cancers of the uterus, liver, brain and other nervous system, soft tissue including heart, and pancreas increased. 
  • Cancer death rates among children 14 years old and younger dropped an average of 1.4% annually. For young people ages 15 to 39 years, overall cancer death rates dropped about 1% annually.
  • Melanoma death rates decreased 6.1% per year among men and 6.3% per year among women.
  • Lung cancer death rates decreased 4.8% per year among men and 3.7% per year among women. However, lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for about one-fourth of all cancer deaths.