Cancer Deaths Have Dropped By 26 Percent, Latest Report Shows

This represents 2.4 million lives saved from cancer in that time frame.

Americans are less likely to die of cancer than they were three decades ago. The American Cancer Society's (ACS)  latest data shows the death rate has dropped by 26 percent since 1991, representing 2.4 million lives saved from cancer in that time frame, as TIME reports. Additionally, the cancer death rate was 158.6 per 100,000 people in 2015, the most recent year with data, per Bloomberg.

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ACS officials attribute the drop in mortality to a variety factors — including, prominently, a reduction of smoking nationwide amid public health campaigns and increased tobacco tax. Lung cancer is still a leading cause of death among cancer patients, but male death rates dropped 45 percent from 1990 to 2015 and female death rates dropped 19 percent from 2002 to 2015.

"It's the low-hanging fruit," Ahmedin Jemal, the cancer group's vice president of surveillance and health services research, told Bloomberg. "We're going to continue to see this decline because of prevention, primarily reduction in smoking prevalence."

The ACS also attribute this good news to prevention strategies — including screening tests such as mammograms, blood tests, and colonoscopies — and advances in treatment that are keeping both cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths down.

Of course, there is still much work to be done as the decline is not consistent among all demographics. Bloomberg reports wealth inequality, for example, creates disparities between racial groups — African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives all have cancer death rates higher than White Americans — because some groups are more obese on average, smoke more, and don't have as much access to preventative care or treatment. In fact, TIME says, the cancer death rate was 14 percent higher for Black individuals than it was for White individuals in 2015.

Geography also makes a difference in cancer mortality. Many states in the Southeast and Midwest — many of the same states that rank lowest in terms of income — carry the highest cancer death rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indeed, a 2014 study in Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, showed that the 14 cancers associated with poverty had a mortality rate of 107.7 per 100,000 people and the 18 cancers associated with wealth have a mortality rate of 68.9 per 100,000 people.

"When it comes to cancer, the poor are more likely to die of the disease while the affluent are more likely to die with the disease," researcher Francis Boscoe said in a statement. 

So, while we celebrate the fact that cancer-related deaths have decreased nationwide, we are reminded to keep fighting for people of all demographics and backgrounds to have equal access to education, and preventive care and treatment.  Closing the gap will be a long road, but the positive strides we've made serve as momentum to keep working hard toward this goal. 

Cover photo via Ken Treloar on Unsplash

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