Cancer Forecast: Why More People Will Die, Even As Death Rates Fall

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Cancer death rates will continue to decline in the United States through 2020, including death rates from some of the most common cancers in both men and women, a new study says.

However, because the population is growing and getting older, the total number of cancer deaths will increase during that same period, the researchers said. The increases will be most pronounced among black and white men and black women, they said.

In the study, the researchers used data on cancer deaths from 1975 through 2009, and population projections through 2020, to predict rates of death from cancer and total cancer deaths in the U.S. through 2020.

Death rates for all cancers combined were predicted to decrease about 15 percent, from 179 deaths for every 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2007, to 151 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020.

In terms of specific cancers, death rates were predicted to decline 21 percent for lung cancer, 19 percent for female breast cancer, 12 percent for cervical and uterus cancer, 26 percent for prostate cancer and 22 percent for colon cancer.

The only cancer whose death rate is not predicted to decline by at least a 10 percent was melanoma, which was predicted to see only a 7 percent reduction in its death rate by 2020. [10 Do's and Don'ts to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer]

However, total deaths from cancer were predicted to increase 13 percent among white men, 15 percent among black men, and 17 percent among black women between 2007 and 2020. Cancer deaths among white women were predicted to stabilize, increasing just 4.4 percent during this period, the researchers said.

"While the overall risk of dying from cancer is declining, the impact of underlying demographic changes in the population will increase the burden of cancer on society and health care systems," the researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the July issue of the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The main reason for the decline in cancer deaths among white women was due to decreases in deaths from breast and colon cancer, which could reflect the success of screening efforts and treatments for these cancers among this population, the researchers said.

In contrast, among black women, breast cancer deaths were predicted to increase 15 percent, and colon cancer deaths were predicted to increase 10 percent, in part due to demographic changes, the report said.

"Increased efforts to promote cancer prevention and improve survival are needed to counter the impact of a growing and aging population on the cancer burden," the researchers said.

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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.