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U.S. cancer death rates continue decline, annual report shows

  • Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD

    Maintaining a two decade-long trend, the cancer death rate in the United States continues to decline, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published online on Monday by the journal Cancer. The report, which covers the years 2001-2010, shows drops in death rates for a range of common cancers, including colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers – and particularly lung cancer, where the death rate decreased at a faster pace than in previous years.

    Together, these four cancers accounted for about two-thirds of the reduction in the overall cancer death rate, which measures the number of people in a population of a given size who die of cancer. The cancer death rate decreased by 1.8 percent per year among men and by 1.4 percent among women. Among children 14 years of age and under, the decline was 1.9 percent per year.

    “This year’s Report to the Nation shows the gains we’re making against cancer are durable and are occurring on many fronts – prevention, early detection, and treatment,” says Dana-Farber Cancer Institute President Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD. “Gratifying as this progress is, cancer death rates remain far too high and survival rates far too low for many types of cancer. Our challenge is not just to maintain the encouraging trend of the past two decades, but to accelerate it. We owe nothing less to our patients and their families.”

    “The continuing decline in mortality is testament to the research and clinical trials that have advanced our understanding of pediatric cancer,” says Lisa Diller, MD, chief medical officer of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “We must continue to support research to give children with difficult-to-treat cancers more options that will lead to cure.”


    There was a sharp drop in lung cancer deaths, which fell by 2.9 percent per year for men between 2005 and 2010, and by 1.4 percent per year for women between 2004 and 2010. “Clearly that’s a reflection of the fact that smoking rates have gone down over the last couple of decades, and we’re now seeing the benefit to that,” says Dana-Farber Chief of Staff, Lawrence Shulman, MD.

    In addition to the declines in lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer death rates, the report found drops in the death rates for other common cancers, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, esophagus, kidney, stomach, multiple myeloma, oral cavity, and pharynx in both men and women. At the same time, death rates increased for some cancers, including cancers of the liver and pancreas for both sexes, cancers of the uterus in women, and in men only, melanoma and soft-tissue cancers.

    The report is compiled annually by the American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute.

    The report also included data on cancer incidence rates, which track the number of new cases diagnosed each year in a given population. During the 2001-2010 period, overall cancer incidence rates decreased by 0.6 percent per year among men, were stable among women, and increased by 0.8 percent among children under the age of 14.

    “The increase in the incidence of pediatric cancer is driven largely by increases in leukemia and brain tumors,” Diller says. “Just as we must support research to further reduce the deaths from childhood cancer, we must also support research to understand the troubling increase in incidence.”

Posted on December 17, 2013

  • Edward J. Benz Jr., MD
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