THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- The overall death rate for cancer in the United States has dropped by at least one-fifth over the past two decades, according to new statistics from the American Cancer Society.
This steady decline translates to 1.2 million lives spared between 1991 and 2009.
"In 2009, Americans had a 20 percent lower risk of death from cancer than they did in 1991, a milestone that shows we truly are creating more birthdays," John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said in a news release.
Death rates continue to fall for colon, breast and prostate cancers thanks to improvements in the early detection and treatment of these forms of cancer, the new report revealed. Lung cancer -- still the leading cancer killer -- is also on the decline, since the number of smokers is also dropping.
But the cancer society noted that more progress could be made if the latest advancements in cancer prevention and treatment were extended to underserved populations.
"Not all demographic groups have benefited equally from these gains, particularly those diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer, where earlier detection and better treatments are credited for the improving trends," Seffrin said. "We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged."
Between 1991 and 2009, overall cancer death rates fell by 24 percent in men and 16 percent in women, according to the society's annual Cancer Statistics report. Cancer death rates in the United States peaked in 1991 at about 215 per 100,000 people. By 2009, however, death rates had fallen to about 173 per 100,000, the report revealed.
For people with colon cancer, women with breast cancer and men with lung cancer, death rates fell by more than 30 percent. Meanwhile, prostate cancer deaths fell by more than 40 percent during this time frame.
A report containing similar statistics was released Jan. 7, on behalf of the cancer society, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
That analysis found that the rate of cancer deaths among men dropped by 1.8 percent per year between 2001 and 2009, and by 1.5 percent per year for women.
"Our efforts in cancer prevention and control are working," Jane Henley, an epidemiologist in the division of cancer prevention and control at the CDC, told HealthDay at the time.
Despite recent progress, however, the fight against cancer continues. The American Cancer Society projected that nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013. The group also estimated that nearly 600,000 people would die from the disease this year.
For men, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers will account for half of all new diagnoses.
Breast, lung and colon cancer will account for about half of all new cancer diagnoses among women in 2013. Breast cancer will be the most prevalent, accounting for 29 percent of all new cases.
Although most forms of cancer are on the decline, the American Cancer Society report showed that incidence rates are actually increasing for melanoma (a serious form of skin cancer), as well as cancers of the liver, thyroid and pancreas. Uterine cancer death rates also are increasing among women.
For men, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer will remain the most deadly forms of the disease. For women, lung, breast and colorectal cancers will be the most common cause of cancer death. Among the most deadly, lung cancer is expected to account for 26 percent of all female and 28 percent of all male cancer deaths.
Henley noted the prevalence of cancer and cancer-related deaths could be further reduced if more people would quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthy, exercise and drink fewer alcoholic beverages.
She added that cases of cervical cancer and cancers of the mouth could be prevented if the percentage of young girls and boys fully vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) increased from the current 32 percent to 80 percent by 2020.
The cancer society report was based on data from the NCI and CDC, as well as mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The research was compiled in two separate reports that were published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more data and statistics on cancer.