Overall U.S. cancer death rates continue to drop among men, women, children, teens and young adults, according to a report released Thursday.
The American Cancer Society's Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer showed a decline in every major ethnic and racial group from 2015 to 2019. The findings are based on pre-COVID-19 pandemic data.
Cancer deaths decreased by 2.1% for women and men during that period, according to the collaborative report from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
The report, published in the Cancer journal, showed a 2.3% decline per year in death rates among men and a 1.9% annual decline for women, with annual cancer death rates dropping at an accelerated pace for both genders from 2001 to 2019.
Despite the decline in rates, cancer remains the second-most common cause of U.S. deaths after heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society. It reported an estimated 609,360 cancer deaths could occur in 2022, compared to 608,500 projected deaths last year - more than 1,600 deaths per day.
Lung cancer and melanoma deaths decreased the most for adults among cancers with declining death rates, according to the new report.
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The drop in mortality suggests "significant progress" in battling cancers, said Kathy Cronin, the deputy associate director of the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance Research Program.
"Factors contributing to the decrease in death rates include improved treatments that extend survival or cure patients and earlier detection of cancer through screening and diagnostic methods," Cronin told USA TODAY.
The approximately 32% decline in overall cancer deaths since 1991 has been heavily fueled by people either quitting smoking or deciding not to smoke decades earlier, thus lowering tobacco-related cancer rates, according to Dr. Otis Brawley, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and former chief medical officer at American Cancer Society.
Melanoma death rates drop among men
Eleven of the 19 most-common cancers found in men - including lung and bronchus, stomach, urinary bladder, kidney and larynx cancers - decreased in mortality between 2015 and 2019.
Death rates of melanoma and lung and bronchus cancers were lowest among men. The introduction of new immunotherapy for these cancers over the past decade have contributed to the decline, according to Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, the American Cancer Society's senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science.
The report showed a rise in men battling cancers of the bones and joints, brain and pancreas. Pancreatic cancer showed the highest incidence rate increase among men. Cases rose by 1.1% per year.
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"Contrary to the rapid declines in the risk of tobacco-related cancers, we have not seen the same progress in cancers associated with metabolic factors, such as excess body weight, physical inactivity and diabetes," Cronin said.
Pancreatic cancer accounts for 8% of cancer deaths and is the fourth-leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths among men and women, though it only makes up 3% of new cancer diagnoses, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Colon, ovarian cancer deaths drop in women
Death rates declined for 14 of the 20 most-common cancers affecting women, including colon, breast, cervical, ovarian and lung cancers. Like men, cases of melanoma and lung cancer continued sharply decreasing, according to the report.
However, cases of melanoma in women rose by 1.8% per year. Mortality rates also rose for uterine and pancreatic cancers among women, findings showed.
"The increase in death rates for pancreatic cancer in both men and women and uterine cancer is thought to reflect the obesity epidemic," said Jemal, who added the rise in melanoma incidence rates among women reflected a both rise in harmful sun exposure and detection by doctors.
Progress against breast cancer decelerated, with new cases rising by 0.5% annually. "The rates of new breast cancers (have) been increasing slowly and may reflect decreases in parity rates, advanced age at first birth, increasing obesity and alcohol consumption," Cronin said.
Leukemia death rates decline in youth
The annual report showed a drop in cancer mortality among kids, teens and young adults, including a decline in the two most common causes of death in children - brain cancer and leukemia.
"Leukemia deaths are also decreasing in adolescents and young adults, but deaths from colorectal cancer are increasing in this group," Cronin said.
Overall cancer death rates decreased in children younger than 15 between 2015 and 2019.
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In adolescents and young adults, there's been a rise in breast, colorectal, and testicular cancers, while thyroid cancer, lymphoma and melanoma have been on a downward trend, according to Cronin.
The report found female breast cancer was the most common among adolescents and young adults, and highest among Black people in those age groups.
Health disparities among cancers
The annual report pointed out racial and ethnic disparities among different cancer types.
Bladder cancer cases dropped in non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander and Hispanic men from 2014-2018. However, rates rose among non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Natives during that period.
Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer death rate than white women, according to report. It noted systemic racism, socioeconomic status and unequal access to healthcare and housing as likely major factors.
"The data overwhelmingly shows Black women get less-than-optimal screening and prevention, optimal diagnostics and treatments for breast cancer," Brawley said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cancer death rate decline suggests progress in treatment, report shows