Last year, I published a paper that showed that cancer mortality rates fell by 24% between 2000 and 2016 and further that new cancer drugs accounted for saving 1.3 million lives in the US over that time period. At the end of the paper, we noted that these numbers may be conservative since the use of new innovations–such as immuno-oncology, CAR-T therapy and others–took off after 2016.
It turns out that our premonition was correct, based on the findings from the American Cancer Society’s 2021 Facts & Figures report.
From 1991 to 2018, the cancer death rate has fallen 31%. This includes a 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018—a new record for the largest 1-year drop in the cancer death rate.
Improvements in health behaviors (e.g., smoking) and new treatments have paved the way for this improvement, particularly for lung cancer.
Reductions in the lung cancer death rateaccount for almost half of the total drop in the cancer death rate from 2014 to 2018. This is thought to be due to declines in smoking, advances in early detection, and improved treatments, especially for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common subtype.
Note that the data don’t include the impact of COVID-19 as they only run through 2018. Further, despite the dramatic improvement in mortality, cancer is still the #2 killer in the US (ignoring COVID), just behind heart disease. However, COVID-19 has passed cancer in terms of US mortality in the spring and with the recent surge has almost certainly surpassed cancer in the fall/winter of this year.
As always, there is lots of interesting information in the ACS report.