News, Culture & Society

Cancer death rates fall as Americans quit smoking

Cancer death rates in the US continued to fall between 2014 and 2015, extending a 24 year decline, according to the latest figures from the American Cancer Society.

The 1.7 percent decrease means that nearly 2.4 million fewer people died of the disease in that period.   

New cancer cases are still predicted to affect more than 1.7 million people in 2018, but as smoking falls out of fashion and detection and treatment technologies improve, the US can expect to see survival rates continue to improve.  

Cancer is still a destructive blight on American society, however, and is estimated to have killed 158.6 per 1,000 people diagnosed with the disease in 2015.

Cancer death rates fell by 1.7 percent between 2014 and 2015 in the US, but mortality varied widely from state to state, according to a map from the American Cancer Society

The most recent rate represents a 26 percent decline from the peak of cancer mortality in 1991.

Encouraging reductions in the fatality of the disease were driven by a precipitous fall-off in lung cancer diagnoses and deaths, according the new report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Lung cancer is among the most common forms of cancer in the US, and certainly the most deadly. 

But it killed 45 percent fewer men between 1990 and 2015, and 19 percent fewer women between 2002 and 2015. 

‘This new report reiterates where cancer control efforts have worked, particularly the impact of tobacco control,’ said Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

‘A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates,’ Dr Brawley said. 

‘Strikingly though, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly three in ten cancer deaths,’ he added. 

About 15 percent of Americans still smoke, but 10 percent fewer people indulge the habit than did a decade ago, a trend that is thought to drive declines in many illnesses, particularly lung cancer and diseases.

For women, breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed form, accounting for 30 percent of all new cancer cases.

The disease may once have been a death sentence, but fatalities declined by nearly 40 percent since 1989.

On the heels of awareness campaigns and a push to encourage Americans to get more frequent colonoscopies and check ups, death rates for colorectal and prostate cancers are less than half of what they were in 1993, helping to cap overall mortality.

Overall cancer death rates in the US have been driven down by the steep decline in lung cancer diagnoses and fatalities since the 1991 peak 

Overall cancer death rates in the US have been driven down by the steep decline in lung cancer diagnoses and fatalities since the 1991 peak 

Historically, cancer has proved more fatal for American minorities than for white people. That gap is narrowing, but, according to the report, the improvements apply mostly to older Americans, ‘likely in part due to universal health care access for seniors through Medicare,’ the American Cancer Society said in its press release.

The racial divide closed by seven percent among seniors, but that statistic ‘masks stark persistent inequalities for you and middle-aged black Americans,’ the release said. 

Black people under 65 were 31 percent more likely to die of cancer as of 2015, and in some states the disparities were even more extreme.  

State-to-to state data revealed a mixed bag of improvements and continuing issues. 

The racial gap between black and white cancer mortality rates remained ‘significant’ in 13 states, yet Kentucky and West Virginia, where there were not such disparities, had the highest death rates for whites. 

Cancer also continues to affect men and women differently. 

According to the report, men a slightly more likely to develop a form – most commonly, prostate, lung and colorectal – of cancer than women. 

Yet, as rates of liver cancer diagnoses stabilize in men, they continue to climb quickly for women.