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February 20, 2024

Cancer Cases Reach Record Highs As Death Rates Decline

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Jan 22, 2024

Cancer remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 600,000 Americans expected to die from cancer in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) “Cancer Statistics 2024” report. However, cancer death rates continue to decline steadily, a trend attributed largely to improvements in early detection and treatment. At the same time, new cancer cases are projected to rise dramatically to nearly 2.3 million this year – an all-time high – fueled by sharp increases in diagnoses among younger adults.

Cancer Death Rates Continue to Fall

The ACS report reveals that the overall cancer death rate dropped by 32% from 1991 to 2019, including a 2.1% decline from 2018 to 2019. This translates to nearly 3.8 million fewer cancer deaths over this period than would have occurred if death rates had remained unchanged.

Improvements were seen in death rates for most major cancer types, with the largest single-year drops observed for:

  • Lung cancer: Declined 5% from 2018 to 2019 in men and 4% from 2018 to 2019 in women
  • Breast cancer: Decreased by 5% from 2018 to 2019 in women
  • Prostate cancer: Fell by 5% from 2018 to 2019

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women, followed by prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. However, lung cancer death rates have dropped significantly over the past decade due to reduced smoking rates and improvements in early detection and treatment.

Table 1: Largest single-year declines in cancer death rates by type

Cancer Type Decline From 2018-2019
Lung (Men) 5%
Breast (Women) 5%
Prostate 5%
Colorectal 4%
Brain/Nervous System (Men) 4%

The sustained fall in cancer mortality is largely attributed to advancements in early detection through screening and improved treatment options. In particular, immunotherapy drugs and targeted therapies are helping patients live longer. Since 2017 alone, over 4 million cancer deaths have been averted thanks to progress in cancer care, ACS experts emphasize.

New Cancer Cases Hit Record Highs

In contrast to the positive news on mortality, the ACS report highlights an alarming rise in new cancer cases, which are projected to top 2.28 million in 2024 – a new annual record. Key factors believed to be driving increased cancer incidence include population growth and aging. However, the report also documents rising diagnosis rates among younger adults for certain cancers – most notably colorectal cancer – which cannot be fully accounted for by these demographic shifts alone.

Some of the steepest increases are occurring in new cases of:

  • Breast cancer in Black women under age 50 (up 2% per year from 2013-2019)
  • Uterine cancer in Asian women all ages (up 2.5% per year from 2013-2019)
  • Pancreatic cancer in men ages 50-64 (up 3% per year from 2013-2019)
  • Thyroid cancer in women 65+ (up 5% per year from 2013-2019)

Perhaps most striking is the sharp 4% annual rise in colorectal cancer cases among adults under age 50 since the mid-1990s. Younger patients now represent 11% of all colorectal cancer diagnoses, nearly doubling over the past two decades. The trend defies understanding, as rates in older adults are declining – likely reflecting more widespread screening.

Table 2: Cancers with largest annual percentage increases in incidence by age group

Age Group Cancer Type Annual Increase Period

| <50 years | Colorectal | 4% | 1995-2019
| 20-49 years | Colorectal | 2% | 2012-2019
| 50-64 years | Pancreatic (Men) | 3% | 2013-2019
| 65+ years | Thyroid (Women) | 5% | 2013-2019
| Black women <50 years | Breast | 2% | 2013-2019
| Asian women all ages | Uterine | 2.5% | 2013-2019

Young-Onset Cancers Raise Alarms

While the reasons for rising early-onset colorectal cancer remain unknown, the trend is sounding alarms among cancer experts. The median age for a colorectal cancer diagnosis is now 66, compared to 72 in the early 2000s. Yet standard screening guidelines only recommend regular colonoscopies starting at age 45.

Some researchers suspect lifestyle factors like poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity may be fueling more cancers in younger people. Evidence also links increased alcohol consumption and decreases in family planning to heightened colorectal cancer risk. At the same time, advances in diagnostic technology and genetic testing may be identifying more cases. But increased awareness and screening cannot fully explain the magnitude of the increases in early-onset cancers.

Whatever the causes, younger colorectal cancer patients often face delayed diagnoses – receiving screenings only after symptoms appear due to their age – contributing to lower survival rates compared to older adults. Younger patients also tend to present at later stages when cancers are harder to treat.

To reverse these trends, medical experts advise:

  • Rethinking when to start screening for colorectal and other digestive cancers
  • Increasing research into causes of early-onset cancers
  • Improving education and awareness around cancer risk factors among younger populations

Some doctors argue screening should begin at age 40 or even younger for high-risk groups. National guidelines for colorectal cancer screening remain under review.

Optimism Around Progress But Concerns Remain

The record drop in cancer death rates reflects decades of medical progress, providing reasons for optimism about further gains. Thanks to better screening and personalized treatments extending survival – like immunotherapy and genomic-targeted therapies – over 19 million U.S. cancer survivors are alive today compared to just 3 million in the 1970s.

Yet cancer continues to impose an enormous health and economic burden on society, now topping heart disease as the #1 killer in 22 states. Stark inequalities persist in outcomes, with the uninsured facing higher mortality rates. And as early-onset cancer cases climb, reversing these alarming trends will require unraveling their complex causes to inform smarter prevention and screening policies.

For now, rising diagnoses amid declining deaths present a mixed picture – balancing extraordinary progress with emerging threats that demand urgent attention from researchers and policymakers alike.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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