cancer treatmentA new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows a steady decline in the death rate from cancer in the U.S. over the past 20 years.

Cancer Statistics, 2014,” shows the rate for men and women combined fell 20 percent from its peak in 1991 to 2010 – the most recent year for which data is available. This 20% decline translates to approximately 1,340,400 cancer deaths avoided during this time period.

Racial variances

The rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths vary quite a bit among racial and ethnic groups. Death rates from 1991 to 2010 have declined more than 50% among black men aged 40 to 49 years, more than in any other group. Even so, black men continue to have the highest cancer death rates among all ethnic groups in the US. Asian Americans have the lowest rates.

“The progress we are seeing is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said ACS CEO John R. Seffrin, PhD. “The halving of the risk of cancer death among middle aged black men in just two decades is extraordinary, but it is immediately tempered by the knowledge that death rates are still higher among black men than white men for nearly every major cancer and for all cancers combined.”

The four deadliest cancers

Lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancers continue to be the most common causes of cancer death, accounting for almost half of the total cancer deaths among men and women. More than 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths is due to lung cancer.

Among men, prostate, lung, and colon cancer will account for about half of all newly diagnosed cancers in 2014, with prostate cancer alone accounting for about 1 in 4 cases. Among women, the 3 most common cancers in 2014 will be breast, lung, and colon, which together will account for half of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29% of all new cancer cases among women.

Colon cancer declines

However, the rate of newly diagnosed colon cancer has declined rapidly in recent years. New colon cancer cases have dropped by more than 4% per year from 2008 to 2010. This progress has been attributed in part to more people having colonoscopies, which can prevent cancer through the removal of pre-cancerous growths called polyps.

The rate of new lung cancer cases has also continued to decline as fewer people smoke. Lung cancer incidence rates began declining in the mid-1980s in men and in the late 1990s in women. The differences reflect historical patterns in tobacco use, where women began smoking in large numbers about 20 years later than men.

A total of 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2014.

Citation: Cancer Statistics, 2014. Published early online January 7, 2014 in CA Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Rebecca Siegel, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

The report was published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.