Falling lung cancer rates drive cancer decline in U.S. over past 2 decades

By Emily Hayes, LabPulse.com contributing writer

January 12, 2021 -- The death rate for people who have lung cancer in the U.S. continued to drop in 2020, according to a January 12 report from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The drop has contributed to a decline in cancer mortality of almost one-third in the last 20 years.

The report found that in 2020, the cancer death rate was down by 31% compared with 1991, including a 2.4% decrease between 2017 and 2018, the ACS reported. The findings are in line with prior reports showing cancer death rates overall dropping in recent years.

In the U.S. for 2021, the report estimates there will be 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and more than 608,000 deaths due to cancer, according to the ACS.

"An estimated 3.2 million cancer deaths have been averted from 1991 through 2018 due to reductions in smoking, earlier detection, and improvements in treatment, which are reflected in long-term declines in mortality for the four leading cancers: lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate," the ACS said in a statement.

Survival is highest for prostate cancer, at 98%, and lowest for lung cancer, at 21%. Female breast cancer has a survival rate of 90%, but incidence of female breast cancer grew by 0.5% per year from 2008 to 2017, a trend the report attributed to fertility rate declines and increases in body weight.

The ACS also noted that there have been rapid reductions in lung cancer mortality, noting that non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a common condition that typically has a poor prognosis. Two-year relative survival for NSCLC has increased from 34% for patients diagnosed from 2009 through 2010 to 42% for those diagnosed between 2015 and 2016.

The overall five-year cancer survival rate for cancers diagnosed between 2010 and 2016 was 68% for white patients and 63% for Black patients. Survival rates are lower for Black patients than white patients for all cancers except pancreatic cancer.

On the other hand, the disparity between Black and white patients in terms of overall cancer mortality has narrowed, falling from a peak of 33% in 1993 to 13% in 2018.


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