Every year, the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) releases a big annual report about trends in cancer and incidence rates. The report is compiled by the NIH’s “SEER” program, which stands for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results, and it includes overall cancer trends as well as trends that are specific to certain demographics like age group, gender, race, and cancer type.
Reports with this much data take a while to compile and analyze (the data collection is the result of a combined effort among groups such as the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, both of which published their own trend reports this past year.) Because the effort is so vast and takes so long, trends published in this year’s report include data from 1999 to 2016.READ MORE
Trends in Cancer Death Rates
Specifically, cancer death rates declined:
- An average of 1.8 percent per year between 1999 and 2016 for men.
- An average of .9 percent from 1999 to 2002, then 1.4 percent per year for women from 2002-2016.
- An average of 1.3 percent for children ages 0-14 years
For men, the decline was consistent across ten of the most common cancers, including leukemia, melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colon cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and several others. There were a few cancers for which the death rate actually increased, though; these included brain cancer, central nervous system cancers, liver cancer, oral cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
For women, the data showed a consistent decline among 13 of the 20 most common cancers, including breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, leukemia, melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cervical cancer, lung cancer, and several others. Similar to the data for men, death rates actually increased for a select few cancers, including brain cancer, central nervous system cancer, pancreatic cancer, and uterine cancer.
For both men and women, melanoma had the biggest death rate decline of all cancers. The roughly five percent drop in melanoma deaths from 2012-2015 corresponds to promising new immunotherapy drugs that have come out over the last few years. (The first checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy drug was first approved to treat melanoma in 2011).
Trends in Cancer Incidence Rates
While cancer death rates declined in men, women, and children alike, cancer incidence rates—that is, the number of new cases of cancer reported every year—only declined for men. For women, it remained steady, and for children, it increased.
Specifically, cancer incidence rates:
– Decreased an average of 2.1 percent per year between 1999 and 2015 for men
– Did not change between 1999 and 2015 for women
– Increased 0.9 percent per year between 2011 and 2015 for children ages 0-14.
Interestingly, despite the fact that incidence rates for men decreased and incidence rates for women stayed the same, the report did note that the overall cancer incidence rates for men from 2011 to 2015 was 1.2 times higher than it was for women. The report explains this phenomenon a bit, sharing that cancer, in general, is diagnosed more often in men than it is in women.
“Cancer is more common among men than women,” the report explains. “Mostly due to higher rates of tobacco use, occupational exposures to carcinogens, and infection with oral HPV and Hepatitis B and C.”
Special Focus on Young and Middle-aged Adults
This year, the SEER report decided to do something new in addition to their annual cancer death rate and incidence statistics. The looked very specifically into trends for adults ages 20 to 49, for whom death rates decreased an average of 2.3 percent for men and 1.7 percent per year for women between 2012 and 2016.
They charted out the most deadly cancers and most common cancers for both men and women in this age group.
For men between 20 and 49, the most deadly cancers were:
For women between 20 and 49, the most deadly cancers were:
For men between 20 and 49, the most common cancers were:
For women between 20 and 49, the most common cancers were:
And notably with incidence rates, while overall cancer incidence rates were higher for men than for women, incidence rates for this specific age group (20 to 49 years) was the reverse—that is, higher for women.
Special Focus on Race and Ethnic Trends
The SEER report also looked into cancer disparities among racial groups and found that, overall, black men and women had the highest death rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancer sites combined.
Linda Tantawi, CEO of the Susan G. Komen’s New York City Affiliate, recently told SurvivorNet that this is especially true among women with breast cancer. African-American women are diagnosed at the same rate as white women, yet they die at a rate 40% higher than white women.
“That’s unacceptable,” Linda said. “Disparities in access to care are prevalent throughout the United States and increases women’s risk of dying from breast cancer.”
For African-American men with prostate cancer, Dr. Edwin Posadas, Director of Translational Oncology and the Medical Director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai, recently told SurvivorNet that these disparities are particularly extreme. African-American men have a 60 percent higher prostate cancer incidence rate than white men and are two-thirds more likely to die from the disease.
So yes, overall news from the NIH SEER report is encouraging. Cancer death rates are declining thanks to positive trends like earlier diagnosis, less smoking, and of course, promising new research and drug development. But as the declines continue, so do the disparities.
As the field continues to advance, Dr. Posadas said, “being able to address each of those communities at a grassroots level becomes very, very important.”