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Are We On Track to Reducing Illness and Death from Cancer by 2020?

Posted on by DCPC

By Hannah K. Weir, PhD

Photo of Dr. Hannah K. Weir

In the near future, cancer is predicted to become the leading cause of death in the United States. It’s already the leading cause of premature deaths. Every year, the number of cancer deaths increases. And that is unlikely to change in coming years, as the proportion of older people—those at greatest risk of dying from cancer—increases. Many of these deaths are avoidable, either by preventing the cancer in the first place or by diagnosing it early and providing high-quality cancer treatment.

How can we address this problem and reduce suffering and death from cancer? CDC and its partners developed cancer mortality objectives for Healthy People (HP) 2020, calling for a 10% to 15% reduction in cancer death rates between 2007 and 2020 for selected cancers. At CDC, we monitor trends in cancer incidence, mortality, and survival so we can measure progress made. This monitoring is particularly important where screening can either prevent cancer (for cervical and colorectal cancers) or find it early (for cervical, colorectal, and female breast cancers), when treatment can be most effective.

For our study in Preventing Chronic Disease, we used population projections and trends in cancer death rates to see if we will meet the HP2020 objectives.

Graph showing the actual and projected mortality rates for all cancer sites combined, by race and sex, United States, 1975 to 2020

Much of the news is encouraging: from 2007 to 2020, death rates are predicted to continue decreasing and to meet HP2020 objectives for cancers of the female breast, lung and bronchus, cervix and uterus, colon and rectum, oral cavity and pharynx, and prostate. We were disappointed to find that this is not true for melanoma.

Our findings point to the need to increase efforts to promote cancer prevention and improve survival to counter the impact of a growing and aging population on the cancer burden and to meet melanoma target death rates. In the coming years, we will continue to monitor and report on trends in cancer incidence and deaths. CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control will work to reduce the cancer burden through its ongoing programs (the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, Colorectal Cancer Control Program, National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, and National Program of Cancer Registries) and public awareness campaigns (Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Campaign, Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer, and Bring Your Brave).

Posted on by DCPC

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