Cancer deaths are on the decline in the U.S., according to a recent national study.
The latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, from a consortium of leading cancer organizations, says cancer deaths continued to fall between 1999 and 2016.
The report also found that the rate of new cancer cases decreased among men from 2008 to 2015, after increasing from 1999 to 2008, and was stable in women from 1999 to 2015.
At Sanford Health, promotion of early detection and preventive screenings may have contributed to the statistics. Particularly for women, breast cancer screenings have become far more accurate with the addition of genetic testing.
“Sanford has a variety of different services to help families that have had breast cancer present in individuals,” said Larissa Risty, senior genetic counselor at Sanford Health. “One of the first places you can go is, of course, to your primary care doctor, talking about that family history. There are triggers, early onset disease in a family, multiple family members that might trigger that referral to maybe either a genetic counselor to start with.”
Learn more in Risty’s podcast: Genetics transform breast cancer screenings
Specialists at the Edith Sanford Breast Center work with patients in all stages of their breast health. Because early detection saves lives, a series of preventive screenings and diagnoses are available.
Cancer death decline is even better for men
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “Major declines overall in cancer mortality point in the right direction, yet significant differences remain in cancer cases and deaths based on gender, ethnicity and race.”
Overall, cancer death rates declined 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% per year in women, continuing an ongoing trend.
From 2011 to 2015, cancer incidence rates — the rate of new cases — were stable in women and decreased 2% per year in men.
Sanford Bemidji urologist John Kosko sees one of the key reasons for the difference.
“There is no doubt that screening saves lives. In the early 1990s, the death rate for prostate cancer was 40,000 a year. But now, in the screening era, the rate has dropped as low as 20,000 per year,” Kosko said. “I think prostate cancer screening definitely saves lives, but we need to get better at implementing it.”
Prostate cancer strikes 1 in 8 American men and kills about 20,000 each year. It is most often present in men in their 70s and 80s. As the population ages, more and more prostate cancer cases are being diagnosed.
Among individual tumor types, progress appears to be continuing against lung cancer, largely due to declines in smoking; and against melanoma skin cancer, due to new and better treatments.
It’s important to talk with your doctor at every visit. Ask what screenings and timings are best for you based on family history, genetics and other risk factors. You also can learn strategies to help prevent cancer.
Learn more: Sanford Health cancer screening guidelines
Young women, obese patients face challenges
On the other hand, cancers where obesity is a risk factor are on the rise. These include early-onset colon cancer, breast cancer in older women, and uterine cancers.
Related: Colonoscopy FAQ
A special section of the report tracked cancer rates for younger Americans — those aged 20 to 49. It found that, in this age group, cancer incidence and death rates were higher for women than men.
From 2011 to 2015, the average annual incidence rate for all invasive cancers in this age group was 203 per 100,000 among women and 115 per 100,000 among men, the report found.
The study’s lead author, Elizabeth Ward, is a consultant at the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR). “The greater cancer burden among women than men ages 20 to 49 was a striking finding of this study,” she said.
Among this younger cohort, cancer incidence rates fell an average of 0.7% a year among men but rose an average of 1.3% per year among women, the report found. And from 2012 to 2016, the average annual cancer death rate was 27 per 100,000 among women and nearly 23 per 100,000 among men in this age group.
Still, some improvements were seen: From 2012 to 2016, cancer death rates fell overall for young Americans. The death rate fell 2.3% per year among men and 1.7% per year among women, the report found.
Three cancers most common for 20- to 49-year-olds
Among Americans aged 20 to 49, the most common cancers and their incidence rates among women were breast cancer (73 per 100,000), thyroid cancer (28 per 100,000) and melanoma (14 per 100,000).
The most common cancers among men in this age group were colon and rectal cancer (13 per 100,000), testis (nearly 11 per 100,000) and melanoma (10 per 100,000).
Younger women’s heightened vulnerability to cancer compared to their male peers appears concentrated in one cancer type, Ward noted.
“The high burden of breast cancer relative to other cancers in this age group reinforces the importance of research on prevention, early detection and treatment of breast cancer in younger women,” she said.
Dr. Douglas Lowy is acting director of the NCI. He said, “It is important to recognize that cancer mortality rates are declining in the 20- to 49-year-old age group. And, the rates of decline among women in this age group are faster than those in older women.”
Betsy Kohler, executive director of NAACCR, added, “We are encouraged by the fact that this year’s report continues to show declining cancer mortality for men, women and children. There are also several findings that highlight the importance of continued research and cancer prevention efforts.”
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