publication date: Jan. 15, 2021

Improvements in treatments for NSCLC, blood cancers, and melanoma continue to accelerate annual drop in overall cancer mortality rates

By Alexandria Carolan and Matthew Bin Han Ong

Overall cancer mortality rates in the United States continued to drop precipitously, falling by 2.4% from 2017-2018, according to the American Cancer Society’s latest Cancer Statistics report.

The Jan. 12 report notes that this drop, 2.4%, is the largest ever, greater than the previous year’s impressive 2.2% decline for 2016-2017—the largest one-year drop to date at the time (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 7, 2020).

New treatments for NSCLC are a primary contributor to the accelerating declines in lung cancer mortality, the main driver for the multi-decade drops in overall cancer mortality, the report said. Lung cancer causes more deaths in the U.S. than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.

“The decline in cancer mortality accelerated from about 1% annually in the 1990s to 1.5% in the 2000s and early 2010s to 2.3% during 2016 through 2018, partly driven by lung cancer,” the report states. “This steady progress is largely due to reductions in smoking and subsequent declines in lung cancer mortality, which have accelerated in recent years because of improved management of NSCLC.”

Advances in treatment are also responsible for rapid declines in mortality from hematopoietic and lymphoid malignancies in both children and adults and, more recently, certain difficult-to-treat cancers, such as metastatic melanoma, the ACS report states.

Overall, the cancer death rate has declined over 27 years, for a total of 31% from 1991 to 2018. Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers have been leading this decline.

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