The American Cancer Society (ACS) released its annual cancer statistics report on January 17th, providing new insights into cancer incidence, mortality, and trends in the United States. The extensive report details a complex mix of positive progress and emerging concerns in cancer prevention and care.
Progress Against Cancer Uneven Across Age Groups
The report brings moderately positive news, with the overall cancer death rate continuing a steady decades-long decline – a drop of 32% from peak mortality in 1991 to 2019, the most recent year analyzed. Building on statistical models and actual reported data, ACS projects 1,898,160 new cancer cases and 617,470 cancer deaths in the United States in 2024.
However, the trends vary significantly across age groups, with older adults seeing substantial progress, while younger and middle-aged groups exhibit rising rates for some common cancers.
“The declining trends reflect improvements in prevention, early detection, and treatment,” said Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society. “But the increasing number of new cancer cases shows we still have work ahead to get those tools and knowledge into all communities.”
Young Adults See Increases in Colorectal, Breast Cancers
While the cancer death rate dropped steadily for those 65 and older, mortality is rising for adults under 65. From 2012 to 2019, the cancer death rate climbed by 2% for people ages 55-64 and 3% for ages 45-54.
Some cancers are also rising among young and middle-aged adults:
Colorectal cancer rates jumped 22% from 2012 to 2019 among those under 50. It’s now the #2 cause of cancer death in this age group.
Breast cancer rates rose about 2% annually in women under 50 between 2011 and 2020, more than double the rate for older women.
Liver cancer deaths have been increasing since the 1970s for adults ages 25-54.
Experts cite rising obesity and delays in screenings as factors, but more research is needed to understand causes. “Thesestatistics are very concerning,” said Dr. Jordan Karlitz, an oncologist at UCLA Medical Center. “Cancers that we usually associate with aging are appearing more in younger people.”
Uneven Progress Across Racial Groups
The report also highlights disparities in outcomes among racial groups, though death rates are dropping across all races:
African Americans have a 33% higher cancer death rate than other groups – a gap that’s widening over time.
Liver cancer death rates for Asian Americans doubled between 2000 to 2019.
While reasons are complex, unequal access to screening and early diagnosis, and barriers to high-quality treatment likely contribute to gaps.
“We need tailored outreach and better access to care,” said ACS researcher Rebecca Siegel. “Then we can close these gaps.”
Cautious Optimism on Further Progress
The report sparks concern on rising rates among young adults but also shows the big impact of improved screening, targeted therapies, and public health efforts against smoking over decades.
Advances like refined imaging, genomic testing to enable precision medicine, and emerging immunotherapies could accelerate declines, assuming equal access. But rising rates of obesity and stagnant screening levels temper optimism.
“It’s a wake-up call that more younger people are getting cancers once confined to the elderly,” said Dr. Benjamin Franc, an oncology expert at MD Anderson Cancer Center, “but it’s also a solvable problem with the right interventions in screening and public health.”
Continued progress relies on optimizing prevention, access, research and care across all groups. “It’s nuanced, but if we work systematically, we can change the story on cancer,” said Franc.
Projected New Cancer Cases and Deaths for 2024
|Lung & Bronchus
|Colon & Rectum
|Kidney & Renal Pelvis
Projections for 2024 based on statistical models by the American Cancer Society
The ACS report provides a complex portrait of progress and emerging threats in the nation’s cancer burden, setting the stage for targeted efforts to optimize screening, treatment, and cancer health equity across all groups. Renewed energy and ideas will likely be needed to resume the historic pace of advances against cancer in the decades ahead.
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