Cancer Death Rates on the Decline

According to new research, cancer death rates have been on the decline since the 1950s. The report, which was published in Cancer Research, concludes that improvements in cancer treatment have been especially beneficial for children and young adults. More recently, cancer death rates among adults have also shown significant improvements.

According to Dr. Eric Kort, lead author of the study, “older Americans have only experienced decreased [cancer] mortality very recently, but younger Americans have been seeing benefits for a long time so, as a result, everyone born in the last 60 years has been reaping the benefits of efforts in prevention research and treatment research and early detection research.”

The good news may seem counter-intuitive to people who have heard recent reports of rising cancer deaths. The confusion comes in the difference between “cancer death rates” and “number of cancer deaths.” While cancer death rates among all age groups continues to decline, the number of people who die from cancer has remained stable or increased slightly.

This is not only due to a larger population, but an aging population as well. As baby boomers grow beyond retirement age, their likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer increases. So while more people are being diagnosed with cancer, their chance for survival is improving.

To come to these conclusions, researchers looked at mortality rates from cancer beginning in 1955. They looked at specific age groups, and found that the youngest group showed the sharpest decline in death rates (25.9 percent). In contrast, older age groups returned a 6.8 percent decline in cancer death rates.

The researchers attribute the declining cancer death rates to chemotherapy treatments that have been applied to childhood leukemias, testicular cancer and lymphomas. More recently, early detection programs for breast, colon and prostate cancer have also been successful.