The American Cancer Society Issues 2020 Report on Cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently released its report, Cancer Statistics, 2020. The report found that the death rate from cancer in the US is dropping. Between 1991 and 2017, death rates from cancer have gone down by 29 percent. 2016 to 2017 saw the largest single year drop ever recorded. The decline in death rates has led to the prevention of over 2.9 million cancer deaths since 1991.1,2

The American Cancer Society report

Cancer Statistics, 2020 is published in the ACS journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.1 The report is published along with a piece called Cancer Facts & Figures, which has been published by the ACS each year since 1951. The report highlights the current trends in cancer rates and survival. It also projects the number of cancer cases and deaths expected across the country.3

Looking at the decline in death rate of the most common cancer

Fewer cancer deaths over the 26-year period is due to drops in the death rates of the 4 most common types of cancer:1

  • Lung
  • Colorectal
  • Breast, and
  • Prostate cancer.

Even though overall deaths are dropping, these 4 cancers are still the major causes of cancer deaths.

Lung cancer had the largest drop of all cancers, though it is still the leading cause of cancer death.1 Lung cancer caused more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.2

Cancer statistics highlights

Some other highlights from the report include:1

  • Breast cancer death rates in women went down 40 percent from 1989 to 2017 but breast cancer is still the leading cause of death in women ages 30-39.
  • Prostate cancer death rates in men went down 52 percent from 1993 to 2017
  • Colorectal cancer death rates went down 53 percent from 1980 to 2017 in men, and 57 percent from 1969 to 2017 in women
  • Melanoma death rates went down 7% each year from 2013 to 2017 in people ages 20 to 64, which was the largest annual average percentage change during this time period
  • More cancers of the pancreas, liver, mouth, throat, cervix, and thyroid are being found

What is driving the change in cancer death rates?

New and improved treatments, including immunotherapy and targeted therapies, are helping to drive down cancer death rates. Changes in smoking trends and increasing focus on prevention also impacts cancer death rates.

New and improved treatments

Better cancer outcomes are partially due to new treatments like immunotherapy and targeted therapies. The development of these therapies has led to new hope for cancer patients; especially those with melanoma, lung cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma.1

Lifestyle changes and prevention

Lung cancer death rates have also decreased due to reduced rates of smoking and improvements in early detection.1

A special section on teen and young adult cancer

This year, the report includes a special section on cancer in teens and young adults (AYA).1 This includes people from age 15 to 39 years old. In this group, cancers are more likely to be aggressive and diagnosed at a later stage. It can take longer to get diagnosed because it’s so rare to get cancer at such a young age.1

For people ages 20-29, the most commonly diagnosed cancers will be thyroid, testicular, and skin. For people ages 30-39, the most commonly diagnosed cancers will be breast, thyroid, and melanoma.

For people ages 15-29, leukemia is the cause of most cancer deaths. For men aged 30-39, brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. For women aged 30-39, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death.

Key takeaways

  • Cancer survival has been improving and the overall cancer death rates is decreasing
  • 2.9 million cancer deaths have been prevented since 1991
  • The overall decline in cancer deaths from 1991 to 2017 is mainly due to decreases in death from the 4 most common cancers: Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal
  • New treatments are a major reason for the decrease in cancer deaths
  • Teens and young adults tend to be diagnosed later and have more aggressive cancers

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