The American Cancer Society’s annual cancer statistics report finds that a 22% drop in cancer mortality over two decades led to the avoidance of more than 1.5 million cancer deaths that would have occurred if peak rates had persisted.

Cancer death rates have declined in every state, with the most progress recorded in the Northeast.  The steady decline in the death rate for the four major cancer sites — lung, breast, prostate, and colon — is the result of fewer Americans smoking, as well as advances in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.

“The continuing drops we’re seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

The overall cancer death rate rose during most of the 20th century, peaking in 1991, largely due to lung cancer deaths among men who smoked.

According to the most recent data, lung cancer death rates declined 36% between 1990 and 2011 among males and 11% between 2002 and 2011 among females due to reduced tobacco use.

Death rates for breast cancer (among women) are down more than one-third (35%) from peak rates, while prostate and colorectal cancer death rates are each down by nearly half (47%).

Story tip from Kathryn

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