Decrease in US Cancer Deaths

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In 2003, cancer deaths in the United States decreased by 369 deaths compared to 2002, the first drop seen since 1930. In 2004, the decrease in cancer deaths was eight times greater – 3,014 deaths – than in 2003, according to a report published in the latest issue of the American Cancer Society (ACS) journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians [1].

Experts are attributing the decreases to declines in smoking, earlier detection and more effective treatment of tumors. The three most common cancers — breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer – show a decrease in death rates, with the largest change from colorectal cancer. Experts attribute much of the credit for the reduction in colorectal cancer to screening exams and the early detection of polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.

The cancers with the greatest decline in death rates from 1990 to 2003 for men were lung cancer (down 38.4%), prostate cancer (down 24.8%) and colorectal cancer (down 16.1%). The greatest decline in death rates from cancer for women were breast cancer (down 39.4%) and colorectal cancer (down 22.3%). However, primary cancers of the esophagus, liver and bile ducts are increasing in men, and lung cancer in women.

The CA article and its companion piece, Cancer Facts & Figures 2007, are yearly ACS reports that estimate the number of cancer cases and deaths for the coming year. In 2007, an estimated 1,444,920 new cases of cancer are expected, with 559,650 cancer deaths. For men, new cancer cases will include prostate cancer (29%), lung cancer (15%) and colorectal cancer (10%). For women, new cancer cases will include breast cancer (26%), lung cancer (15%) and colorectal cancer (11%).

Although inherited genes do influence the risk of cancer, heredity alone explains only a fraction of all cancer cases. The most important changeable determinants of cancer risk are not using tobacco, dietary choices and physical acitivty. The following recommendations by the ACS are suggested to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
  2. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
  3. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant food sources.
  4. Limit alcoholic beverage consumption.


  1. Jemal et al. Cancer statistics, 2007. CA Cancer J Clin. 2007 Jan-Feb;57(1):43-66.
    View abstract
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.