Recent American Cancer Society Report Reveals Cancer Death Rates Dropping
The fight against cancer never stops, with an estimate of more than 600,000 Americans dying of cancer in the past year. However, there is good news about the impact of preventative health screenings and early cancer detection initiatives on cancer rates. In January of 2023, the American Cancer Society released a report with encouraging data for public health champions and Americans at large: Cancer death rates appear to be falling.
Here’s what you need to know about the January 2023 report’s optimistic findings and areas that need improvement.
Highlights of the American Cancer Society’s Report
The American Cancer Society (ACS) releases an annual breakdown of cancer data, including the number of new cancer cases in the country and the number of cancer-related deaths. This helps measure the progress of public health initiatives and treatments on cancer outcomes and provides projections about cancer’s impact on population health over the next year.
The 2023 ACS Cancer statistics report showed the following data points:
- For women in their early 20s, there was a 65% drop in the incidence of cervical cancer from 2012 to 2019, which correlates to the first wave of people to receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
- Even in the midst of the pandemic, when there were diagnosis delays and treatment disruptions, the cancer death rate declined from 2019 to 2020. This statistic is especially compelling, given that other leading causes of death, such as death from cardiovascular disease, increased during the pandemic.
- There has been a 33% reduction in cancer deaths since 1991, avoiding approximately 3.8 million deaths.
- The five-year relative survival rate when combining all cancers increased from 49% in the mid-1970s to 68% through the mid-2010s. Cancers such as thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer have extremely high survival rates, at 98%, 97%, and 95%, respectively.
- The five-year relative survival rate for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) increased from 22% in the mid-1970s to 70% in the mid-2010s.
- The three-year survival rate for metastatic melanoma has increased from 20% in the 2004 to 2006 period to almost double during the 2016 to 2018 period.
Why Are Cancer Rates Falling?
The reasons why cancer rates are falling are multifold. The spreading importance of early detection (such as in recommending CT scans of patients who are active or recent smokers of a certain age), as well as public health initiatives to reduce cancer-related behaviors, such as smoking, have proved impactful.
Additionally, as mentioned by the ACS in their report, public health initiatives such as the HPV vaccine campaign have been successful in reducing the burden of HPV infections and their association with the development of cervical cancer. The report authors note that the introduction of the HPV vaccine “foreshadows steep reductions in the burden of human papillomavirus-associated cancers, the majority of which occur in women.”
Another explanation for falling cancer death rates is the advances in treatment. These advances have been especially robust in terms of reducing cancer deaths for kidney cancer, leukemia, and melanoma, which have benefited from developments in targeted therapies. This is in spite of the fact that lung cancer incidence has been stable or increasing within the same time period of 2016 to 2020.
Where Is Cancer Progress Lacking?
While, overall, the report from the ACS is uplifting—and should represent good news for those who invest in public health campaigns that work to lessen the devastating impact of cancer on communities—progress is still needed. The ACS report noted that prostate, breast, and uterine corpus cancers continued to increase from 2015 to 2019. The report noted that these cancers also have the largest racial disparities regarding mortality. This means that, even with an overall improvement in the fight against cancer, special attention is needed to address the health inequities that exist.
For example, for uterine cancer, Black women have the highest mortality rate for every subtype of this cancer. According to the ACS report, “uterine corpus cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, yet there is a dearth of research activity.” Thus, the lack of major treatment advances disproportionately affects Black women and represents one of the largest disparities in all cancers, according to the report.
How to Improve Cancer Mortality rates in the Face of Health Inequities
Communities that struggle with health inequities deserve to benefit from prevention and early detection campaigns to combat their rising cancer incidence, as well as high-quality research and equitable funding. From a public health standpoint, sharing preventative guidance and encouraging early detection for all communities can help reverse the course of these health disparities—and ensure that cancer mortality rates continue to decline in the future for all.
Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.
 Cancer Stat Facts. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/common.html#:~:text=How%20Many%20People%20Die%20of,to%20die%20from%20this%20disease.
 Cancer statistics 2023. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21763
 Lung cancer screening. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/lung-cancer-screening
 Rates of new lung cancer cases drop in U.S. men and women. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0109-lung-cancer.html