ATLANTA - JANUARY 12, 2021 - Overall cancer death rates in the United States dropped continuously from 1991 through 2018 for a total decrease of 31%, including a 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018. The news comes from the American Cancer Society's annual Cancer Statistics, 2021 article, appearing in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its consumer version, Cancer Facts & Figures 2021. This year marks the American Cancer Society's 70th anniversary of reporting this data to inform the nation's fight against cancer.
The report estimates that in the U.S. in 2021, almost 1.9 million (1,898,160) new cancer cases will be diagnosed and 608,570 Americans will die from cancer. These projections are based on currently available incidence and mortality data through 2017 and 2018, respectively, and thus do not account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer diagnoses or deaths.
"The impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnoses and outcomes at the population level will be unknown for several years because of the time necessary for data collection, compilation, quality control, and dissemination," said Rebecca Siegel, MPH, lead author of the report. "We anticipate that disruptions in access to cancer care in 2020 will lead to downstream increases in advanced stage diagnoses that may impede progress in reducing cancer mortality rates in the years to come."
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Progress in reducing mortality has slowed for other leading causes of death in the U.S., but accelerated for cancer, which is the second-leading cause. 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.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death, accounting for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. Sluggish progress against these latter cancers in recent years contrasts with accelerating reductions in the death rate for lung cancer, from 2.4% annually during 2009 to 2013 to 5% annually during 2014 to 2018. As a result, lung cancer accounted for almost half (46%) of the overall decline in cancer mortality in the past 5 years and spurred a record single-year drop (2.4% from 2017 to 2018) for the second year in a row.
Recent rapid reductions in lung cancer mortality reflect better treatment for the most common subtype - non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Two-year relative survival for NSCLC has increased from 34% for patients diagnosed during 2009 through 2010 to 42% for those diagnosed during 2015 through 2016, including absolute gains of 5% to 6% for every stage of diagnosis. Two-year survival for small cell lung cancer remained at 14% to 15% during this time period.