Cancer is the most common cause of death in the United States after heart disease. It killed 609,360 people in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society, and doctors identified 1.9 million new cases that year.
But after decades of medical advances, improvements in early detection, and greater awareness of risk factors like smoking and alcohol abuse, the risk of dying from the disease has decreased significantly. (These are the states with the most cancer deaths linked to alcohol.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the cancer death rate in 1950, the first year the agency started keeping records, was 193.9 for every 100,000 people. By 1990, it had risen to 216 for every 100,000 people, the highest rate since record-keeping began.
Then it began to drop, decreasing almost every year, to 144 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. (CDC data on cancer-related deaths hasn’t been released yet for 2021 and 2022. The Journal of American College of Surgeons warned in an article published in May that pandemic-related delays in doctor’s visits and cancer screenings “will likely cause a significant increase in cancer cases that could have been caught earlier.”)
To identify the cancer death rate in America every year since 1980, 24/7 Tempo reviewed age-adjusted death rates for selected causes of death in the United States for the years 1950–2019 from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC. The agency did not begin annualizing data until 1980, but the figures for the decades of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s are used in ranking each year’s position. The Overall US death rate for the year in the United States for each year also came from the CDC. (These are the most common cancers in America and their survival rates.)
In 2003, the cancer rate hit a record low and has dropped every year since — by 25%, to its rate in 2020. Last year, President Biden re-launched the Obama-era Cancer Moonshot initiative, aimed at reducing the U.S. cancer death rate by at least half over the 25 years to 2047.
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