The overall rate of cancer mortality has fallen 20 percent since 1991, according to new figures released by the American Cancer Society’s annual Cancer Statistics report.

Since 1991, the rate of cancer mortality has declined from 215.1 per 1000 to a little over 173 in 2009. The death rates have been found to consistently decline among all four of the following main cancer groups: lung, colon and rectum, breast and prostate.

Over the last twenty years, there has been more than a 30% fall in breast and male lung cancer and a 40% reduction for prostate cancer, this is likely due to the reduction in the number of smokers and improved detection and treatment.

This year it’s estimated that there will be around 1,660,000 cancer cases and 580,350 cancer related deaths in the U.S. The most common cancers among men are cancers of the prostate, lung and bronchus and colorectal, which make up more than half of total male cancers. Breast, lung and bronchus and colorectum cancers are the most common among women, with breast cancer making up 29% of female cancer cases.

Cancer continues to become less common among nearly all cancer sites with the exception of melanoma of the skin and cancers of the thyroid, pancreas and liver. The most common causes of cancer death are related to the cancers of the lung and bronchus, prostate, colorectum, and breast.

Around 27% of all cancer deaths in 2013 are expected to be due to lung cancer. The deadliest type of cancer was found those involving the pancreas, only 6% of pancreatic cancer patients live for 5 years after diagnosis.

John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said:

“In 2009, Americans had a 20% lower risk of death from cancer than they did in 1991, a milestone that shows we truly are creating more birthdays. But we must also recognize that not all demographic groups have benefitted equally from these gains, particularly those diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer, where earlier detection and better treatments are credited for the improving trends. We can and must close this gap so that people are not punished for having the misfortune of being born poor and disadvantaged.”

There has been a decline in cancer deaths among men of close to 1.8% per year and 1.5% among women between 2005-2009. From 1990 to 2009 the death rate among men decreased by 24% and 16% for women. This fall is significantly greater than the previous decades. The authors note that whilst these reductions are certainly promising, there still needs to be much work done in spreading cancer control knowledge across all segments of the population.

Cancer death rates have also significantly dropped in Europe according to a study published in Annals of Oncology.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist