Despite what every conspiracy theorist, anti-vaccine proponent, and “all-natural” enthusiast on the internet would have you believe, fewer Americans are dying from cancer.
According to the most recent report from the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate has been declining steadily since 1991. In fact, the death rate has declined by 25% from 1991 to 2014.
It is not just death, though — Americans are being diagnosed with cancer less often as well. The rate of new cancer diagnosis decreased by roughly 2% per in men and stayed the same in women. The death rate declined roughly 1.5% per year in men and women.
What is Driving the Decline?
Much of the decline in diagnosis comes from clinicians moving away from a type of blood test that is thought to have routinely over-diagnosed prostate cancer. Here, the term over-diagnosed means that this cancers that would never have developed into a health issue were being detected and treated unnecessarily.
Also, as fewer and fewer Americans smoke cigarettes, fewer and fewer Americans are developing lung cancer.
Finally, it appears that an increase in screening procedures for colorectal cancer has lead to a decline in the development of new cases because precancerous growths can be removed.
Cancer is Still Killing
Despite the rosy tone of the rest of this post, cancer does still suck.
It is estimated that over 600,000 Americans will die of cancer in 2017. That’s over 1,600 every day.
Lung, colorectal, prostate, and breast cancers continue to be among the most common causes of cancer death, accounting for about 46% of the total cancer deaths among men and women. More than 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths is due to lung cancer.
Among men, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer will account for 42% of all newly diagnosed cancers in 2017, with prostate cancer alone accounting for about 1 in 5 cases. Among women, the 3 most common cancers in 2017 will be breast, lung, and colorectal, which together will account for about half of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 30% of all new cancer cases among women.
Cancer Rates are Increasing in Children (but Death Rates are Declining)
Cancer is the second most common killer of children age 1 to 14 years, right behind accidents. It is estimated that 10,270 children will be diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and 1,190 will ultimately die from it.
For reasons not fully understood, the incidence rates of cancer in children and adolescents increased at a rate of 0.6% per year from 1975 through 2013. However, death rates have been steadily declining since 1975. The 5-year survival rate improved from 58% in 1975 to 1977 to 83% in 2006 to 2012.
For a full account of where we stand in the fight against cancer, check out the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2017 report.
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