Well-Being Medical Advances

Cancer deaths in US see largest single-year drop on record


Story at a glance

  • A new report shows cancer deaths in the U.S. fell 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017.
  • Researchers credit the drop in lung cancer cases, driven by advanced treatments and a decline in rates of smoking.
  • Cancer deaths have fallen 29 percent since 1991.

Cancer deaths in the United States are continuing to drop as the largest ever single-year decline in overall fatalities from the disease has been reported by the American Cancer Society.

According to a report published Wednesday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the U.S. saw a 2.2 percent decrease in overall cancer deaths from 2016 to 2017, the biggest single-year drop ever reported. Researchers say the reduction is the result of advances in lung cancer treatments including refinements in surgery, better diagnostics and improvements in radiotherapy.

“What is really driving that is the acceleration in the decline of mortality for lung cancer, and the reason that is encouraging is because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, causing more deaths in the U.S. than breast, colorectal cancer and prostate cancers combined,” Rebecca Siegel, the study’s author and scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta told CNN.

In most instances, lung cancer is associated with smoking, which has steadily seen decades of decline among users. The study notes that has also contributed to the falling rates of cancer. 

The drop in the cancer death rate over the past 26 years has been steady. Overall cancer death rates have dropped by an average of 1.5 percent per year between 2008 and 2017, but the decline from 2016 to 2017 is the largest seen since 1930. Since peaking in 1991, the cancer death rate has fallen 29 percent, an estimated 2.9 million that would have occurred if rates stayed at their peak. 

The American Cancer Society report estimated 1.8 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. this year and more than 606,000 deaths. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the nation, with cancer as the second.