The overall cancer death rate decreased by about a third (32%) from its peak in 1991 to 2019, from about 215 deaths per 100,000 people to about 146, averting about 3.5 million deaths during that period, according to the data. Most of this decrease can be attributed to the lower mortality rate among lung cancer patients.
The American Cancer Society projects that there will be about 1.9 million new cancer diagnoses and more than 609,000 cancer deaths in the United States in 2022, including about 350 deaths per day from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death.
In 2019, about one in four cancer deaths were among lung cancer patients, but lung cancer deaths are declining faster than overall trends. Lung cancer death rates declined about 5% each year between 2015 and 2019, while total cancer deaths decreased by about 2% in that time.
Experts say persistent downtrends are cause for optimism.
Deep Schrag, MD, chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said.
She said continued progress in pushing the curve downward will require a three-pronged approach, with strong and united efforts across prevention, screening and treatment.
Programs aimed at preventing or quitting smoking can have a significant impact, as well as annual screening, according to an American Cancer Society report.
“The data actually tells us from a wellness perspective, in every possible way, that quitting at any age, at any time, and at any level of habits affects anyone’s health,” Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society told CNN.
“Studies have shown that for someone with cancer, no matter what that cancer is — lung cancer or another cancer — if they stop smoking at the time of cancer diagnosis, it is strongly associated with a better outcome. So, smoking cessation is important not only for cancer prevention, but To give yourself the greatest possible chance of a good outcome if you are being treated for cancer.”
And while lung cancer screening has increased slightly recently—from 2% of eligible people in 2010 to 5% in 2018—the effects have been much larger.
About 28% of lung cancer diagnoses in 2018 were detected early in the “in situ stage,” up from 17% in 2004. More than 30% of patients lived at least three years after their diagnosis, up from 21%.
Knudsen told CNN that increasing screening for all types of cancer is critical.
“Even before Covid, screening screening was not where it should be for the American public,” she said, with lung cancer screening among the worst.
In her previous role at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Knudsen said she’s noticed checks fall back every time Covid-19 cases peak. But this late screening could lead to tens of thousands of preventable deaths in the coming years, and it is “painful” for individuals to develop a screening plan.
“For all individuals, what I hope will feel empowered to have that conversation with their primary care physician—I can’t stress that enough—to ask ‘What screening plan is right for me based on my personal history, my family history, and, if I know that, my genetic history?’” “
While lung cancer is generally the most common and causes the most deaths in both men and women, prostate cancer is the most common type in men and breast cancer is the most common type in women, according to the report.
Diagnostics are increasing in advanced stages for both prostate and breast cancer, both of which can be caught early. Cervical cancer still causes thousands of deaths, although it is almost completely preventable.
Advances in treatment can bring about change in a more immediate way than changes in health behaviors.
Broadly, precision medicine — understanding the molecular drivers or genetic features of cancer to treat it more strategically — and immunotherapies developed through a better understanding of the immune system have been “game-changing agents,” Schrag said.
Improvements in life expectancy after lung cancer diagnosis have been predominantly among those with non-small cell lung cancer, and in terms of treatment, have been driven by advances in diagnostic and surgical procedures, such as video-assisted thoracoscopy, as well as medical treatments such as immunotherapy Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2015.
Experts say trends in cancer deaths are largely driven by changes in lifestyle and care over decades.
“For example, when we see today’s gains and continued declines in lung cancer deaths, some of that is because smoking rates started declining 20 and 30 years ago,” Schrag said. “We’re reaping some of those benefits today.”
Not all long-term effects are positive. Racial and sociodemographic disparities in cancer incidence and mortality also persisted due to the long-term effects of systemic racism in the United States, according to an American Cancer Society report.
Black patients have a lower five-year survival rate than white patients for most types of cancer, and black women have a higher cancer mortality rate than any other group, according to American Cancer Society data. While the incidence of breast cancer is 4% lower among black women than among white women, the breast cancer mortality rate is 41% higher among black women.