Cancer Death Rate Declines Worldwide

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The rate of deaths from cancer appears to be declining worldwide, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed information from death certificates in 60 countries between 2000 and 2010.

The total number of cancer deaths increased over this time period, due to the growing world population, and the fact that people are living longer. But the rate of cancer deaths — that is, the number of deaths per 100,000 people — declined by about 1 percent per year during the decade, the study found.

In particular, there was a decrease in the rate of deaths from stomach cancer in almost all countries, a decrease in lung cancer deaths among men, and a decrease in breast and prostate cancer deaths in developed countries, according to the study.

Part of the reason for the overall decline may be the decreasing smoking rates in developed countries, along with improved early detection and treatment of cancer, said study researcher Dana Hashim, a postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

However,  the death rate from lung cancer increased among women in most countries, likely because women in these countries are now adapting the smoking habits that were formerly seen among men, Hashim said.

In addition, the rate of deaths from some cancers increased in less-developed countries: There was an increase in the rate of breast cancer deaths among women in less-developed countries. And the rate of death from prostate cancer was inconsistent (not consistently increasing or decreasing) in less-developed countries.

The findings suggest that, although the rate of death from cancer is on the decline in developed countries, there could now be an uptick of some cancer deaths in some developing countries. "It seems like the burden [of cancer] is switching" to low- and middle-income countries, Hashim said.

The initiation of more public health and prevention programs in less-developed countries may help reduce some of this burden, Hashim said. [10 Do's and Don'ts to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer]

To make sure the estimates were as accurate as possible, the researchers included information only from countries that had reliable data from death certificates, in which more than half of the population was represented. However, this meant that a number of countries could not be included in the study — for example, the study included just one country in Africa, and did not include China or India, the world's most populous countries. For this reason, the study was not representative of the entire world population.

The study was presented April 21 at the meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.