American cancer deaths dropped by 2.4% from 2017 to 2018

Cancer deaths see record drop in United States


Published: Jan 27, 2021 at 09:42 AM EST

The number of American cancer deaths from 2017 to 2018 dropped by 2.4%, marking a record single-year drop for the second year in a row at the time of publication. These stats were published in the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) annual Cancer Facts & Figures report, which also revealed more positive news regarding the long-term direction of cancer death rates.


From 1991 through 2018, researchers saw death rates drop continuously with an overall decrease of 31%. Furthermore, while efforts to reduce death rates for other leading causes of death in the U.S. have slowed, the reduction has actually accelerated for cancer.

The ACS estimates 3.2 million cancer deaths were avoided during this 27-year span. This exceptional number can be attributed to several factors, including fewer smokers, earlier cancer detections, and advances in treatment technology.


Overall, lung cancer is the most common cause of American cancer deaths. It actually accounts for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. However, between 2014 and 2018, lung cancer accounted for nearly half of the overall decline in cancer deaths, with the number of deaths dropping by 5%. That’s more than double the previous five-year period.

Researchers chalk this rapid reduction up to improved treatment for the most common subtype of lung cancer – non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In 2010, the two-year relative survival rate for NSCLC was 34%. By 2016, that number had jumped up to 42%. In comparison, the survival rate for small cell lung cancer remained steady at about 15% during this time period.


The 2021 Cancer Facts & Figures report includes plenty of information to absorb. Some of the highlights presented in a press release from the ACS include:

  • Prostate cancer has the highest survival rate at 98%, with melanoma of the skin (93%) and female breast cancer (90%) close behind.
  • Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate at just 10%. Liver (20%), esophagus (20%), and lung (21%) are the next lowest.
  • Breast cancer accounts for 30% of new cancer diagnoses among women.
  • The incidence rate of female breast cancer jumped by about 0.5% each year from 2008 to 2017. This is likely due in part to lower fertility rates and higher body weights.
  • The disparity in overall American cancer deaths between Black and White patients is steadily dropping. It peaked in 1993 at 33% and fell to just 13% in 2018.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Alaska Natives.
  • The most preventable cancers, like lung and cervical cancers, have the biggest geographic disparities in both incidence and death.

“While recent advances in treatment for lung cancer and several other cancers are reason to celebrate, it is concerning to see the persistent racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for highly preventable cancers,” said William G. Cance, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society. “There is a continued need for increased investment in equitable cancer control interventions and clinical research to create more advanced treatment options to help accelerate progress in the fight against cancer.”


The ACS report estimated nearly 1.9 million new cancer cases would be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021 and more than 600,000 Americans will die from cancer. However, since these numbers are based on data prior to 2018, researchers can’t account for the impact COVID-19 has on diagnoses or deaths.

“The impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnoses and outcomes at the population level will be unknown for several years because of the time necessary for data collection, compilation, quality control, and dissemination,” said Rebecca Seigel, MPH, lead author of the report. “We anticipate that disruptions in access to cancer care in 2020 will lead to downstream increases in advanced stage diagnoses that may impede progress in reducing cancer mortality rates in the years to come.”

That disruption in cancer care was highlighted in a report published by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. Using insurance claim information, the authors of that report found drops in several routine screenings, including colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears, and PSA tests. All in all, it’s estimated more than 22 million screenings were disrupted between April and June 2020.

*Source: Press Release from American Cancer Society,