More Than 650,000 Cancer Deaths Avoided

Decline in Cancer Death Rate Means 650,400 Fewer Cancer Deaths Between 1991-1992 and 2005

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 27, 2009 -- The American Cancer Society today announced that 650,400 U.S. cancer deaths were avoided from the early 1990s through 2005.

That news appears in the early online edition of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The report shows a 19% drop in men's overall cancer death rates between 1990 and 2005 and a decline of about 11% in women's overall cancer death rates between 1991 and 2005.

Those declines reflect a long-term, gradual decline in cancer death rates, which trace back to a drop in certain cancers and better screening and survival for certain cancers.

"A drop of 1% or 2% per year in the cancer mortality rate may sound small, but as this report shows, that adds up," John R. Seffrin, PhD, the American Cancer Society's chief executive officer, says in a news release.

"Because the rate continues to drop, it means that in recent years, about 100,000 people each year who would have died if cancer death rates had not declined are living to celebrate another birthday. That is undeniable evidence of the lifesaving progress that we as a country must dedicate ourselves to continuing," Seffrin says.

Still, cancer remains the top cause of death for people younger than 85 (heart disease is the leading cause of death for all age groups combined).

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 562,340 people will die of cancer in 2009, which is more than 1,500 cancer deaths per day.

Men's Top Cancers

Prostate cancer will remain men's most commonly diagnosed cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Here is the American Cancer Society's estimate of new cases of cancer among U.S. men in 2009 (not including nonmelanoma skin cancer and in situ (noninvasive) cancers.

  1. Prostate cancer: 192,280 new cases
  2. Lung cancer: 116,090 new cases
  3. Colorectal cancer: 75,590 new cases
  4. Bladder cancer: 52,810 new cases
  5. Melanoma: 39,080 new cases
  6. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: 35,990 new cases
  7. Kidney cancer: 35,430 new cases
  8. Leukemia: 25,630 new cases
  9. Cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx: 25,240 new cases
  10. Pancreatic cancer: 21,050 new cases

Lung cancer is expected to remain men's most common cause of cancer death in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society:

  1. Lung cancer: 88,900 deaths
  2. Prostate cancer: 27,360 deaths
  3. Colorectal cancer: 25,240 deaths
  4. Pancreatic cancer: 18,030 deaths
  5. Leukemia: 12,590 deaths
  6. Liver cancer: 12,090 deaths
  7. Esophageal cancer: 11,490 deaths
  8. Bladder cancer: 10,180 deaths
  9. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: 9,830 deaths
  10. Kidney cancer: 8,160 deaths

Women's Top Cancers

Breast cancer is expected to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women, but lung cancer will be women's deadliest cancer, the American Cancer Society predicts.

Here are the top 10 cancers that will be diagnosed in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society:

  1. Breast cancer: 192,370 new cases
  2. Lung cancer: 103,350 new cases
  3. Colorectal cancer: 71,380 new cases
  4. Uterine cancer: 42,160 new cases
  5. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: 29,990 new cases
  6. Melanoma: 29,640 new cases
  7. Thyroid cancer: 27,200 new cases
  8. Kidney cancer: 22,330 new cases
  9. Ovarian cancer: 21,550 new cases
  10. Pancreatic cancer: 21,420 new cases

The 10 most common causes of women's cancer deaths for 2009, as estimated by the American Cancer Society, are as follows:

  1. Lung cancer: 70,490 deaths
  2. Breast cancer: 40,170 deaths
  3. Colorectal cancer: 24,680 deaths
  4. Pancreatic cancer: 17,210 deaths
  5. Ovarian cancer: 14,600 deaths
  6. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: 9,670 deaths
  7. Leukemia: 9,280 deaths
  8. Uterine cancer: 7,780 deaths
  9. Liver cancer: 6,070 deaths
  10. Brain and other nervous system cancers: 5,590 deaths

Race, Education Gaps

The decline in cancer death rates has been greater for some groups than for others. Access to cancer screening and medical care is part of the reason for that, notes the American Cancer Society.

People with more education generally had bigger declines in their cancer death rates. And there were racial and ethnic gaps, including these patterns:

  • New cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths were more common from 2001 to 2005 among African-Americans than among whites, except for breast cancer (more new cases among whites), lung cancer (more new cases and more deaths among white women than African-American women), and kidney cancer (more deaths among whites).
  • New cases of stomach and liver cancer, and deaths from those cancers, are twice as common among Asian-American/Pacific Islanders than among whites. That reflects increased prevalence of chronic infection with H. pylori bacteria and the hepatitis B and C viruses, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • American Indians/Alaskan natives have the highest rates of new cases of kidney cancer and kidney cancer deaths.

Cancer Prevention


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The American Cancer Society recommends taking these steps to reduce the chances of developing cancer:

  • Don't smoke or use other tobacco products. The American Cancer Society estimates that tobacco will cause about 169,000 U.S. cancer deaths in 2009.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life. According to the American Cancer Society, being overweight or obese is linked to increased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, and kidney cancer.
  • Adopt a physically active lifestyle. Adults should get at least 30 minutes (and ideally 45-60 minutes) of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days per week. Children and teens should get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days per week.
  • Eat a healthy diet that emphasizes plant sources. Watch portion sizes, read food labels, eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits daily, choose whole grains over processed grains and sugars, and limit consumption of processed and red meats.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption. Women should drink no more than one drink per day; men no more than two drinks per day.
  • Get routine cancer screening. Early detection of cancer can mean a better prognosis. Some cancers, like ovarian cancer, don't have routine screening tests, but even when screening tests exist, not everyone uses them. For instance, the American Cancer Society notes that mammography usage hasn't increased since 2000, and that less than half -- 47% -- of Americans 50 and older have gotten a colorectal cancer screening test.

Jemal, A. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, May 27, 2009; advance online edition.
News release, American Cancer Society.
American Cancer Society: "Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures, 2009."
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