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Study: Deaths from cancer declined by one-quarter since 1991

Improvements in screening and treatment, as well as reductions in smoking, are credited with the sharp drop seen in the last 25 years.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 7, 2016 at 1:03 PM

ATLANTA, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Deaths from cancer have declined by nearly a quarter since 1991, as 1.7 million deaths were avoided because of more screening and better treatment, as well as shifts in lifestyle such as sharp drops in the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes.

A new study conducted by the American Cancer Society, which counts cases of cancer and death as a result, shows drops in overall cancer death, which has been driven by decreases in death from cancer in the lung, breast, prostate, and colon and rectum.

Although heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, cancer has overtaken it in 21 states because of declines in heart disease. In the new study, ACS estimates 1.68 million new cancer cases and about 600,000 deaths in 2016.

"We're gratified to see cancer death rates continuing to drop," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. "But the fact that cancer is nonetheless becoming the top cause of death in many populations is a strong reminder that the fight is not over."

Researchers report in the study, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, year-over-year overall cancer incidence remains stable in women, but has declined in men by 3.1 percent, with about half the drop credited to rapid declines in prostate cancer diagnoses because of fewer PSA tests being conducted.

The cancer mortality rate, which declined by 23 percent since 1991, has dropped by about 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.4 percent per year in women. The death rate peaked in 1991 at 215.1 per 100,000 people diagnosed, and dropped to 166.4 per 100,000 people with cancer in 2012. The decline has been larger in men, at 28 percent, than for women, at 19 percent.

"Cancer is in fact a group of more than 100 diseases, some amenable to treatment; some stubbornly resistant," Brawley said. "So while the average American's chances of dying from the disease are significantly lower now than they have been for previous generations, it continues to be all-too-often the reason for shortened lives, and too much pain and suffering."

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