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On Cancer Death Rate in the US, a Historic Dip

2.2% drop in 2017 is biggest single-year decline in mortality rate, helped along by lung cancer gains
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2020 8:11 AM CST

(Newser) – Since 1930, the American Cancer Society has been tracking the cancer death rate in the US—the number of deaths per 100,000 people—and its latest report shows the biggest single-year drop ever: 2.2% in 2017, reports the Washington Post. That record one-year decline is tacked onto a 29% dip in the cancer death rate since 1991, when that figure peaked. A main driver of the decline overall, according to the report in the latest edition of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, is a marked decrease in recent years in the mortality rate for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths. Researchers say this news on the lung cancer front is the result of patients turning away from smoking, as well as the fact that "we are making steady progress on cancer" via new treatments and therapies, Norman Sharpless, the director of the National Cancer Institute, tells the Post.

Lung cancer death rates have dropped by 51% in men since 1990, and by 26% in women since 2002. "It’s a really exciting time in cancer research, and I think we’re seeing the fruits of many years of investments," a cancer expert at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tells the Wall Street Journal, though he adds "we still have a long way to go." NPR notes with lung cancer in particular, many smokers and ex-smokers still don't get early screenings, and patients diagnosed with lung cancer in its advanced stage have only a 5% chance of living for five years. Melanoma, meanwhile, is the cancer that's shown the largest drop in mortality rate of all cancers, falling 5% to 6% annually over the past few years. Still, a drop in the cancer death rate doesn't equal a decline in the number of US cancer deaths, which surpasses 600,000 annually. "That number continues to grow," an ACS rep tells NPR. (Read more cancer stories.)

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