The latest annual report from the American Cancer Society shows that death rates from cancer in the US are continuing to fall, “giving reasons to celebrate but not to stop,” according to the voluntary health organization whose goal is the eradication of cancer.

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The latest statistics for the US show that the death rate from cancer has dropped 22% since its peak in 1991.

In figures to be published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the American Cancer Society (ACS) show how the death rate from cancer in the US has dropped by 22% since its peak in 1991.

They say this means about 1.5 million deaths from cancer have been avoided in the last 20 years.

The ACS estimate that in 2015, the US will see a total of 1,658,370 new cancer cases and 589,430 deaths due to the disease.

Cancer was responsible for nearly 1 in 4 deaths in the US in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall – close behind heart disease.

The new figures show that between 2007 and 2011, new cancer cases in men fell by 1.8% a year. In women, it stayed much the same. Death rates over the same period fell by 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% per year in women.

The ACS argue that pushing the fight against cancer across all segments of the population could lead to even more progress.

The extent to which death rates in the US have fallen varies by state, with a general pattern showing less of a decrease in the south than the north-east – reflecting state-by-state differences in health factors.

For example, rates of smoking and obesity – two big modifiable risk factors for cancer – follow a similar south versus north-east pattern. The gap between rich and poor, and disparities in health care access – both of which are increasing – also have an effect, notes the report.

Rates of lung, colon, prostate and breast cancers – which account for nearly half of all cancer deaths among men and women – have all shown large drops.

However, lung cancer still stands out as the cancer that kills the most people in the US – accounting for more than 1 in 4 (27%) cancer deaths.

As tobacco use has declined in the US, so have rates of death to lung cancer. Between 1990 and 2011, they fell 36% among men, and between 2002 and 2011, they fell 11% among women.

American women did not take up smoking in large numbers until about 20 years after men, and their use of tobacco did not start to fall until the late 1990s, whereas in men, the rates began to drop in the mid-1980s. The difference in drop in deaths to lung cancer between the two groups follows a similar pattern.

Over the last 20 years, breast cancer deaths have fallen by over a third (35%), while deaths from prostate and colon cancers are each nearly half (47%) the levels they were 2 decades ago. The ACS say these huge reductions are mainly due to earlier detection and treatment.

The three most common cancers expected to occur in American men in 2015 are prostate, lung and colon cancer – accounting for about half of new cases. In women, the three most common cancers are expected to be breast, lung and colon cancer – also to account for around half of all new cases of cancer.

Prostate cancer will account for around 25% of new diagnoses in men in 2015, while in women, breast cancer will account for around 29% of new cases, the report predicts.

Dr. John R. Seffrin, CEO of ACS, comments:

[Cancer] is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79 and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years.

“The change may be inevitable, but we can still lessen cancer’s deadly impact by making sure as many Americans as possible have access to the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat cancer.”

Medical News Today recently reported key highlights of the 25th anniversary edition of America’s Health Rankings, where reduction in smoking tops the list of top 10 successes. Since 1990, smoking has fallen by 36% in the US, from 29.5% to 19.0% of adults who regularly smoke.

In contrast, however, obesity has increased by 153% in the same period, from 11.6% to 29.4% of adults, while physical inactivity – at 23.5% of adults – has not changed much in the last 10 years.