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Cancer deaths in US declined by 2% every year since 2016, report says

Isaac Lane Koval/Corbis/VCG

(NEW YORK) — Cancer deaths in the United States are continuing to decline, according to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research.

The report, published Wednesday, found that deaths from cancer have decreased by 2.3% every year between 2016 and 2019.

Overall, there has been a 32% reduction in the U.S. cancer death rate since 1991, which translates into approximately 3.5 million lives being saved, the report said.

Additionally, in 2022, there are more than 18 million cancer survivors living in the U.S., equivalent to 5.4% of the population, the report found. Fifty years earlier, there were just 3 million cancer survivors.

According to the report, the decreasing number of deaths is due to “unprecedented progress” made against cancer within the last decade.

This includes eight new anticancer medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between August 2021 and July 2022 as well as 10 previously approved medications that have been expanded to treat other types of cancer.

Another reason is due to the decline in smoking, the report says. Rates of smoking among U.S. adults have also decreased from 42% in 1965 to 12.5% in 2020.

The report also highlights the importance of cancer screenings, which can determine if a person has precancerous lesions or cancer in its early stages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program — which aims to rise cancer screening rates among people between 45 and 75 years of age — saw an average increase of 8.2 percentage points and 12.3 percentage points among clinics that participated in the program for two and four years, respectively, according to the report.

“Basic research discoveries have driven the remarkable advances that we’ve seen in cancer medicine in recent years,” Dr. Lisa Coussens, the president of AACR, said in a statement.

“Targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and other new therapeutic approaches being applied clinically all stem from fundamental discoveries in basic science,” the statement added. “Investment in cancer science, as well as support for science education at all levels, is absolutely essential to drive the next wave of discoveries and accelerate progress.”

However, because cancer continues to be the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. — with an estimated 600,000 lives expected to be lost this year — the AACR is calling on Congress to increase funding for the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and for the FDA, which oversees the regulation of anticancer medication.

The group also called for more support for programs such as President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which was relaunched in February 2022, with a goal of slashing the national cancer death rate by 50% over the next 25 years.

The good news comes despite a recent report that cancers among adults younger than age 50 have “dramatically increased” globally over the last several decades.

Researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital said the sharp rise of several cancers including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver and pancreas began in the early 1990s.

The Brigham study found the rise is partially attributable to early screenings for some of these cancers. Early life exposures such as people’s diet, weight, lifestyle, environmental exposure, and microbiome may factor into what’s contributing to early-onset cancer, but more information on individual exposures is needed, the study said.

ABC News’ Dr. Evelyn Huang contributed to this report.

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