The cancer death rate in the United States fell 2.2% from 2016 to 2017—the largest single-year decline in cancer mortality ever reported, according to a recent report by the American Cancer Society.
In almost two decades, the rate has dropped 29%. This translates to approximately 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if the mortality rate had remained constant.
Experts attributed the decline to the reduced smoking rates and to advances in lung cancer treatment. New therapies for melanoma of the skin have also helped extend life for many people with metastatic disease, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, the report says.
However, progress has slowed for colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.
The increasing rate of obesity among Americans and significant racial and geographic groups explains why the decline in breast and colorectal cancer death rates has begun to taper off, and why the decrease in rates of prostate cancer has stopped entirely.
Cancer remains the second leading cause of death after heart disease in both men and women nationally.
The American Cancer Society predicts that this year there will be about 1.8 million new cancer cases and over 600,000 cancer deaths. Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate, colorectal, and brain cancers combined, the report says.
“We are still dealing with the effects of cigarette smoking from the 1960s and 70s in today’s population,” says Otis Brawley, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University and former chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.