Cancer mortality has fallen 20% since its peak in 1991, according to the latest annual report from the American Cancer Society.

Rebecca Siegel, MPH, and coauthors from the American Cancer Society’s Surveillance and Health Services Research division in Atlanta, Georgia, reported in Cancer Statistics, 2013 that overall, death rates from cancer fell from their peak in 1991—215.1 per 100,000 population—to 173.1 per 100,000 in 2009.

“The reduction in overall cancer death rates since 1990 in men and 1991 in women translates to the avoidance of approximately 1.18 million deaths from cancer, with 152,900 of these deaths averted in 2009 alone,” noted Siegel and colleagues in the annual report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (2013;63:11-30).

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The research team also found that death rates continue to decline for all four major cancer sites, including lung, colorectum, breast, and prostate. Over two decades of data, mortality decreased from their peak by more than 30% for cancers of the colorectum, female breast, and male lung, and by more than 40% for prostate cancer. The declines in female breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer deaths largely reflect improvements in early detection and/or treatment, whereas the drop in lung cancer deaths is due to the reduction in tobacco use, wrote the investigators.

Nevertheless, the most common causes of cancer death in men are cancers of the lung and bronchus, prostate, and colorectum. For women, the most common causes of cancer death are cancers of the lung and bronchus, breast, and colorectum.

Over the most recent 10 years of data (2000–2009), the largest annual declines in mortality were recorded for chronic myeloid leukemia (8.4%), cancers of the stomach (3.1%) and the colorectum (3.0%), and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (3.0%).

Siegel’s group asserted that further reductions in cancer mortality can be accelerated by applying existing cancer-control knowledge across all segments of the population, with an emphasis on those groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket and other underserved populations.