Over the last twenty years, more than one million deaths from cancer have been avoided, researchers reported in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Death rates for the most common cancers, including colon, breast, prostate and lung cancers have been dropping steadily year after year. However, some rarer cancers, such has kidney, thyroid, liver and pancreas cancers have seen death rates and total incidences rise.

In its annual report, titled “Cancer Statistics 2012”, plus an accompanying article “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012”, the authors estimate how many new cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths there will be this year in the USA.

The authors predict that:

  • There will have been 1,638,910 new cancer diagnoses in 2012 in the USA
  • There will have been 577,190 cancer deaths in 2012 in the USA
  • From 1990 to 2008, overall death rates dropped by approximately 23% in adult males
  • From 1990 to 2008, overall death rates dropped by about 15% in adult females
  • These figures mean that over a million cancer deaths during that period were avoided

Cancer incidence and cancer death rates vary considerably between different ethnic and racial groups. Overall, African-American adult males have a 15% higher incidence of new cancer diagnoses and a 33% higher death rate from cancer compared to Caucasian men.

African-American women, on the other hand, have a 6% lower incidence of new cancer diagnoses, but a 16% greater death rate than Caucasian women.

The steepest fall in death rates from cancer over the past two decades were seen in African-American men.

The authors of both reports say that existing knowledge about combating cancer needs to be applied across all segments of society, especially in lower income households.

Tobacco use and obesity are estimated to be the two main cancer-causing factors for 2012. Tobacco use is estimated to cause one third of cancer deaths over the coming twelve months, and obesity, poor nutrition and physical inactivity another third.

Even though overall cancer rates and cancer death rates have dropped over the last two decades, there has been a corresponding rise in those two rates for some rarer cancers.

The following rarer cancers have seen incidence and total deaths increase over the last two decades:

  • Kidney cancer. Rates rose in all groups, except for American Indian/Alaska Native men.
  • Thyroid cancer. Rates rose in all groups, except for American Indian/Alaska Native men.
  • Liver cancer. Rates rose among Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic males, as well as African-American females.
  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma. Rates increased among Caucasian and Hispanic adult males.
  • Melanoma of the skin
  • Some throat cancers (linked with HPV infection). The increase was only among Caucasians.

Experts are not sure why rates have increased in these cancers. Some are associated with higher current rates of obesity (liver, kidney, pancreas and esophagus cancers). Perhaps these cancer are being detected earlier – this could push figures up.

Written by Christian Nordqvist