Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease, which is also in a long-term decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Death rates continued to decline for all cancers combined for men and women of all major racial and ethnic groups and for most major cancer sites; rates for both sexes combined decreased by 1.5 percent per year from 2001 through 2010,” according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer,1975-2010, published online December 16. (See cancer annual report.pdf)
The study is good news, especially for the 12.9 percent of Americans (one in eight) who are 65 years of ago or older. More than half (53 percent) of all new cancer diagnoses occur in this demographic group, which will swell to 19 percent of the U.S. population by 2030.
Using short-term and long-term survival data collected by the CDC, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, researchers found that “overall incidence rates decreased in men and stabilized in women.”
Men have a higher cancer death rate than women (215.3 deaths per 100,000 men compared to 149.7 deaths per 100,000 women). “Black men had the highest overall cancer incidence rate (593.9 per 100,000 men) of any racial or ethnic group,” the study noted.
“Death rates declined for 11 of the 17 most common cancers in men (lung, prostate, colon and rectum, leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), esophagus, kidney, stomach, myeloma, oral, larynx) and for 15 of the 18 most common cancers in women (lung, breast, colon and rectum, ovary, leukemia, NHL, brain, myeloma, kidney, stomach, cervix, bladder, esophagus, oral, gallbladder) from 2001 through 2010,” the study found.
Researchers say that the overall decreases in cancer death rates “indicate progress in cancer control and reflect a combination of primary prevention by reductions of important risk factors as well as improved early detection and treatment.”
However, not all the news in the study was good. The death rate for thyroid cancer increased for both men and women during the last decade.
Researchers pointed out that the death rate from cancer was higher “in the presence of one or more of 16 co-morbid conditions”– including acute myocardial infarction, AIDS, cerebrovascular and vascular disease, chronic renal failure, cirrhosis/chronic hepatitis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, diabetes, diabetes with sequelae, liver disease, paralysis, rheumatologic disorders, and ulcers.”
“New tools are being developed to improve survival estimates by taking co-morbidity into account,” the study reported.
The decreasing cancer death rate was also tempered by a caveat: "The number of individuals diagnosed with cancer and living after a cancer diagnosis (cancer survivors) will continue to rise in the coming decades due to population aging and expansion as well as increasing success in treatment, even if incidence rates remain stable or decline.
“The ability of the U.S. health care system to respond to the growing population of older adults, cancer survivors, and patients with multiple co-morbidities is uncertain,” researchers noted.