Cancer statistics show decline in deaths, but new threats loom

December 31, 2014 | by Nicole White

The American Cancer Society’s annual statistics show the death rate from cancer in the U.S. is down significantly from its peak more than a decade ago – certainly a reason to celebrate. But before the kudos give way to complacency, be forewarned: A number of increasingly serious public health issues could send cancer deaths and cancer incidence climbing again.

Cancer statistics don't tell whole picture Breakthroughs in cancer treatment, early detection and reduction in smoking have resulted in a 22 percent decline in cancer deaths since 1991. But obesity could help send those numbers climbing again.

That's the sobering perspective provided by City of Hope's provost and chief scientific officer, Steven T. Rosen, M.D.

He added some context to the annual statistical analysis from the American Cancer Society. That analysis found that the death rate from cancer has dropped 22 percent from its peak in 1991; amounting to about 1.5 million deaths from cancer avoided. Between 2007 and 2011 – the most recent five years with data available – new cancer cases dropped by 1.8 percent per year in men and stayed the same in women. Cancer deaths decreased 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.4 percent in women for that same period of time.

Rosen attributed the overall decline in deaths to a number of factors, namely prevention, early detection and better therapies.

In terms of prevention, declining tobacco use has led to drops in lung cancer, appropriate use of hormonal therapy has been a powerful tool against breast cancer, and colonoscopies and polyp removal have reduced colon cancer deaths. As for early detection, routine prostate cancer screenings have stood out for their ability to reduce deaths from that disease.

At the same time, cancer treatment has advanced, Rosen said, especially in the use of adjuvant therapy for breast cancer and prostate cancer, and in the use of targeted therapies for solid tumors and stem cell transplants for blood cancers.

But, Rosen warned, such progress could be threatened, even reversed.

“We have to be vigilant for it is anticipated that the obesity epidemic will increase cancer incidence and deaths,” Rosen said. “Recreational marijuana use can increase lung cancer, and the rise of sexually transmitted diseases is associated with cancer risk. In addition, cancer is associated with aging, and as life expectancy fortunately increases, cancer rates will rise proportionately.”

Other highlights from the report, released in a statement from the American Cancer Society, include:

  • The decline in the cancer rate is driven by declines in four major cancer sites: lung, breast, prostate and colon.
  • Between 1990 and 2011, lung cancer death rates declined by 36 percent in men. Lung cancer deaths declined in women by 11 percent between 2002 and 2011. The declines are attributed to decreased tobacco use.
  • Death rates for breast cancer in women dropped 35 percent since their peak. Death rates for prostate and colorectal cancer are down 47 percent each.
  • Lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer are the most common causes of cancer death.
  • An estimated 589,430 will die of cancer in 2015, according to the report – about 1,600 deaths per day.
The progress in declining cancer and cancer death rates is encouraging. Focused research efforts and clinical trials, such as those conducted at City of Hope, have led to improvements in cancer treatment. Now, prevention and risk reduction must also concentrate on obesity and other threats to public health.

The full reports will be online Jan. 5. Cancer Statistics 2015 can be viewed at


Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.


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