Cancer deaths decline, but more could be prevented through lifestyle changes, screening

New report by the American Cancer Society estimates 585,000 in the U.S. will die of cancer in 2014
Doctor reading a mammogram
Radiologist Dr. Paul Bice analyzes a mammogram on July 31, 2012, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies can be crucial for early cancer detection, said Dr. Larissa Korde, director of the Prevention Center at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. File photo by Torin Halsey / The Wichita Times-Record-News via AP

A report released this week by the American Cancer Society holds some good news with regard to cancer deaths: they’ve steadily declined by a total of 20 percent over the course of the last two decades.

The annual report, which compiles the most recent data on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival in the U.S., estimates that 1,340,400 cancer deaths have been avoided -- representing 952,700 men and 387,700 women -- thanks to advances in prevention (such as anti-smoking measures), early detection and treatment.

The bad news, of course, is that cancer still kills 1 in 4 Americans. The Cancer Statistics report, which utilized data from the National Cancer Institute, the CDC, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and the National Center for Health Statistics, estimates 1,665,540 new diagnoses and 585,720 cancer deaths will occur in the U.S. in 2014.

That translates to about 4,500 new cancer diagnoses and 1,600 cancer deaths per day, according to the report.

In men, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers account for 49 percent of the estimated new cases and 46 percent of estimated cancer deaths. Breast, lung and colorectal cancers account for half of all estimated new cases and estimated cancer deaths in women.

Dr. Larissa Korde, director of the Prevention Center at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said this year’s report is not dissimilar to those she’s seen in recent years with the exception of two significant trends in this year’s report.

“Overall, there’s a decreasing rate of colon cancer and deaths from colon cancer and an increase in melanoma,” she said. “In terms of the colon cancer decrease, that could be attributed to better screening and in particular, to colonoscopy, which allows us to find precancerous lesions and remove them. It really is the most reliable way to not just screen for cancer but prevent colon cancer.”

New data on the melanoma rate in men and women was also noteworthy, she said. According to the ACS report, the rate of new melanoma cases went up by about 2 percent annually.

“I think that’s particularly important from a prevention perspective,” she said, stressing the importance of decreasing sun exposure and the use of sunscreen. “We think of melanoma as a preventative cancer. That’s an important take home point."

What else can people do to decrease their chance of a cancer diagnosis?

“The No. 1, 2, and 3 worst factors for lung cancer are smoking, smoking and smoking,” she said, adding that anti-smoking programs are “doing the trick.”

Indeed, a recently released study involving researchers from Fred Hutch found that an estimated 8 million lives have been saved in the U.S. as a result of anti-smoking measures launched 50 years ago.

Mammograms for women and colonoscopies for both men and women are also crucial, Korde said, as is exercise.

“The American College of Sports Medicine recommends about 30 to 50 minutes of physical activity five times a week,” she said. “It’s a hard recommendation for people to follow – it’s a sizable amount of time and effort – but moderate physical activity will reduce many cancers. I think that’s also an important take home point.”
The exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous, however.

“Just do something that gets your heart rate up a little bit,” she said, “like brisk walking or jogging.”

Contact writer Diane Mapes at

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