NCI Annual Report Shows Cancer Mortality Rates Continue to Decline

Every year, there is an annual report to the nation about cancer: rates of occurrence, mortality, and various trends in oncology. It is jointly issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The report can be helpful to both researchers and the general public, to get a broad overview of various aspects of diagnosis and survival, as well as trends in oncology and the treatment of cancer.

What does the data show?

This year’s report found that for all cancer sites combined, mortality from cancer continued to decline in men, women, and children from 1999 to 2016.1 Rates of new cancer diagnoses in men decreased from 2008 to 2015, and were stable in women from 1999 to 2015.1 A special section focused on individuals from the ages of 20 to 49, and this showed a slightly different picture. In this age group, women had a higher incidence and mortality rate than men, the opposite of the other age groups.1

Trends in mortality and incidence

As overall mortality from various kinds of cancers declines, it’s important to reinforce the importance of research, prevention, early detection, and access to timely treatment. There have been long-term declines in tobacco smoking, which has had an effect on the lowered rates of lung, bladder, and larynx cancers as well as decreased mortality rates.1 Interestingly, rates of cancers associated with unhealthy weight and sedentary lifestyle have been increasing.1

For men, mortality rates have fallen for 10 out of the 19 most common cancers but were increased for 6 cancers. The most significant increases were seen in liver, pharynx, and oral cavity cancers, as well as non-melanoma skin cancer.1,2 For women, mortality rates decreased for 13 of the 20 most common cancers, including lung and bronchus, breast, and colorectal.1 Female mortality rates did increase for 5 cancers, with the most significant increases in uterine and liver cancers.1

Despite decreases in mortality overall, it’s important to also look at various factors within mortality trends, and racial and ethnic disparities are still present, in both cancer incidence and mortality rates. When data of all ages were combined and compared by sex, black men and women had the highest cancer mortality rates, for both all sites combined and half of the most common cancers in men and women.1 Black men and white women had the highest cancer incidence rates overall, and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women had the lowest overall rates.1 Hispanic men and women had lower overall incidence rates than non-Hispanic men and women.1 For Black men especially, there was a study looking at prostate cancer, which Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with than white men in the US, as well as have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis, and are more than twice as likely to die or the disease than white men in the US.3 One possible explanation is linked to lower SES (socioeconomic status), less access to health insurance and quality care, and not receiving standardized care adhering to established guidelines.3 While overall cancer mortality appears to be falling, there’s still work to be done.

Looking ahead

Overall, cancer incidence (new diagnoses) and mortality rates are decreasing or remaining fairly stable. Lower rates of cigarette smoking have contributed to this, especially with lung cancer incidence and mortality, as well as health education, access to care, and developments in treatment. Certain populations do have higher incidence and mortality rates than others, especially with Black men and prostate cancer, so it’s important to keep working toward reducing cancer incidence and mortality rates amongst individual populations.

While this is good news, this only tells you so much. If you have questions about your risk of developing certain types of cancer or questions about mortality rates for a cancer, talk with your doctor. They’ll be able to provide you with more tailored information, taking into account your medical history, lifestyle factors, and genetics.

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