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Progress Against Lung Cancer Fuels Record Drop in U.S. Cancer Deaths

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A 29% drop in U.S. cancer deaths between 1991 and 2017 was driven by declines in deaths from four major cancers -- lung, colon, breast and prostate, according to the latest American Cancer Society (ACS) annual report.

Cancer deaths in the United States fell 2.2% between 2016 and 2017, the largest-ever single-year decrease.

That record drop was spurred by a rapid decline in lung cancer deaths -- from 2% a year to 4% overall, the report said.

In contrast, declines in colon, breast and prostate cancer death rates slowed, according to the report published online Jan. 8 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

"The news this year is mixed," said report lead author Rebecca Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the ACS.

This year, the report projects 1.8 million new cancer cases and 606,520 cancer deaths in the United States.

Between 2008 and 2017, overall cancer death rates fell an average 1.5% a year, continuing a trend dating to the early 1990s.

The 29% decrease between 1991 and 2017 represents about 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if rates had remained at their peak.

"The exciting gains in reducing mortality for melanoma and lung cancer are tempered by slowing progress for colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, which are amenable to early detection," Siegel said in a society news release.

Lung cancer death rates have dropped 51% among men since 1990, and 26% among women since 2002, with the fastest progress in recent years. Among men, reductions in lung cancer deaths rose from 3% a year during 2008-2013 to 5% a year during 2013-2017. For women, they rose from 2% to almost 4%.

Still, lung cancer accounts for nearly one-quarter of all cancer deaths -- more than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.

Death rates due to breast cancer fell 40% from 1989 to 2017. Prostate cancer deaths dropped 52% from 1993 to 2017. And colon cancer deaths fell 53% from 1980 to 2017 for men and 57% from 1969 to 2017 among women.

The most rapid declines -- for melanoma skin cancer -- followed approval of breakthrough treatments in 2011 that boosted one-year survival of advanced melanoma from 42% in 2008-2010 to 55% in 2013-2015.

Decades-long increases in liver cancer deaths for both men and women appear to be abating, the report said. And cervical cancer, which is almost completely preventable, caused 10 premature deaths per week in women ages 20-39 in 2017.

Siegel said the report points to strategies that could boost progress.

"It's a reminder that increasing our investment in the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions, as well as basic and clinical research to further advance treatment, would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer," she said.

Dr. William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer for the ACS, attributed the reductions in death from lung cancer and melanoma to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy.

"They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients," Cance said in the release.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer risk factors and prevention.

SOURCE: American Cancer Society, news release, Jan. 8, 2020

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