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Overall Cancer Mortality Continues To Decline

June 3, 2019

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Public Health
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The latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer finds that, for all cancer sites combined, cancer death rates continued to decline in men, women, and children in the United States from 1999 to 2016. Overall cancer incidence rates, or rates of new cancers, decreased in men from 2008 to 2015, after increasing from 1999 to 2008, and were stable in women from 1999 to 2015. In a special section of the report, researchers looked at cancer rates and trends in adults ages 20 to 49.

The annual report is a collaborative effort among the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the American Cancer Society (ACS); and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR). The report appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on May 30, 2019.

The special section shows a different picture for cancer incidence and mortality among men and women ages 20 to 49 than among people of all ages. In the main report, from 2011 to 2015, the average annual incidence rate for all cancer sites combined was about 1.2 times higher among men than among women, and from 2012 to 2016, the average annual death rate among men (all ages) was 1.4 times the rate among women. However, when the authors looked only at men and women ages 20 to 49, they found that both incidence and death rates were higher among women. The authors reported that, in the 20-49 age group from 2011 to 2015, the average annual incidence rate for all invasive cancers was 115.3 (per 100,000 people) among men, compared with 203.3 among women, with cancer incidence rates decreasing an average of 0.7% per year among men and increasing an average of 1.3% per year among women. During the period from 2012 to 2016, the average annual cancer death rate was 22.8 (per 100,000 people) among men and 27.1 among women in this age group.

The most common cancers and their incidence rates among women ages 20 to 49 were breast (73.2 per 100,000 people), thyroid (28.4), and melanoma of the skin (14.1), with breast cancer incidence far exceeding the incidence of any other cancer. The most common cancers among men ages 20 to 49 were colon and rectum (13.1), testis (10.7), and melanoma of the skin (9.8). In studying this age group, the authors also found that, from 2012 to 2016, death rates decreased 2.3% per year among men and 1.7% per year among women. The authors also reported in the special section that the incidence rates of in situ breast cancer and nonmalignant central nervous system tumors among women and men ages 20 to 49 are substantial. They wrote that some of the most frequent malignant and nonmalignant tumors that occur in this age group may be associated with considerable long-term and late effects related to the disease or its treatment. The authors concluded that access to timely and high-quality treatment and survivorship care is important to improve health outcomes and quality of life for younger adults diagnosed with cancer.

This year's report found that, among all ages combined, existing incidence and mortality trends for most types of cancer continue. Rates of new cases and deaths from lung, bladder, and larynx cancers continue to decrease as a result of long-term declines in tobacco smoking. In contrast, rates of new cases of cancers related to excess weight and physical inactivity -- including uterine, post-menopausal breast, and colorectal (only in young adults) -- have been increasing in recent decades. Several notable changes in trends were observed in the report. After decades of increasing incidence, thyroid cancer incidence rates in women stabilized from 2013 to 2015. The authors wrote that this could be due to changes in diagnostic processes related to revisions in American Thyroid Association management guidelines for small thyroid nodules. The report also shows rapid declines in death rates for melanoma of the skin in recent years. Death rates, which had been stable in men and decreasing slightly in women, showed an 8.5% decline per year from 2014 to 2016 in men and a 6.3% decline per year from 2013 to 2016 in women.

Other notable findings about cancer mortality from the report include that from 2012 to 2016:

1.     Overall death rates decreased 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% per year in women.

2.     Among men, death rates decreased for 10 of the 19 most common cancers but increased for 6 cancers, with the steepest increases for liver cancer, oral cavity and pharynx cancer, and non-melanoma skin cancer.

3.     Among women, death rates decreased for 13 of the 20 most common cancers, including the 3 most common cancers (lung and bronchus, breast, and colorectal), but increased for 5 cancer types, with the steepest increases for cancers of the uterus and liver.

For cancer incidence, from 2011 to 2015:

1.     Incidence rates for all cancers combined were stable in women and decreased 2.1% per year in men.

2.     Among men, rates of new cancers decreased for eight of the 17 most common cancers, increased for seven cancers, and were stable for two cancers.

3.     Among women, rates of new cancers decreased for six of the 18 most common cancers, increased for nine cancers, and were stable for three cancers.

The report also shows continuing racial and ethnic disparities in cancer mortality and incidence. When data for people of all ages were combined and compared by gender, across racial and ethnic groups, black men and black women had the highest cancer death rates, both for all cancer sites combined and for about half of the most common cancers in men and women. Black men and white women had the highest overall cancer incidence rates, and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women had the lowest overall rates. Non-Hispanic men and women had higher overall incidence rates than Hispanic men and women.

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