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Cancer deaths fall, thanks mostly to drop in smoking

Cancer death rates are down, thanks mostly to huge declines in smoking, the American Cancer Society says. But 600,000 people will die of cancer in 2018.
Image: A scientist prepares protein samples for analysis in a lab
A scientist prepares protein samples for analysis in a lab.Stephan Wermuth / Reuters, file

Cancer deaths have fallen yet again, thanks mostly to huge declines in smoking, the American Cancer Society said Thursday.

More than 2.3 million people have not died of cancer since 1991 who otherwise would have if cancer rates had remained unchanged, the group said in its annual report on cancer.

Yet 4,700 Americans are diagnosed with cancer every day and cancer remains the No. 2 cause of death in the United States, right behind heart disease.

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“A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

“Strikingly though, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly three in ten cancer deaths.”

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The cancer death rate fell 1.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, the report finds. Since 1991, the cancer death rate has fallen 26 percent.

It takes more than a year to collate death certificates and analyze the data on cancer deaths. The cancer society uses trends and other data to project deaths for 2018.

It predicts that 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. in 2018, and that more than 609,000 will die of it.

“The overall decline is driven by decreasing death rates for the four major cancer sites,” the group said.

  • Lung cancer is down 45 percent since 1990 among men and down 19 percent since 2002 among women
  • Breast cancer is down 39 percent since 1989
  • Prostate cancer is down 52 percent since 1993
  • Colorectal cancer is down 52 percent since 1970

“The decline in cancer mortality over the past two decades is primarily the result of steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment,” the report reads.

Related: A silent cancer epidemic is spreading among men

“Lung cancer death rates declined 45 percent from 1990 to 2015 among males and 19 percent from 2002 to 2015 among females due to reduced tobacco use because of increased awareness of the health hazards of smoking and the implementation of comprehensive tobacco control.”

The group predicts:

  • 234,000 lung cancer cases and 154,000 lung cancer deaths in 2018
  • 268,000 breast cancer cases and 41,000 deaths
  • 164,000 prostate cancer cases and 29,000 deaths
  • For all cancers combined, the 5-year relative survival rate is 68 percent in whites and 61 percent in blacks

Women have a 37.6 percent percent chance of ever being diagnosed with cancer. Men have a 39.7 percent chance.

A woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer over her lifetime; a man has a 1 in 9 chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, the American Cancer Society says.