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American Cancer Society Releases 2021 Report on Cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has released its 2021 report on cancer, called Cancer Facts and Figures 2021. The data in this report is 2 to 4 years behind the current year. This is because it takes time to collect, evaluate, and analyze the data.1

Like 2020’s report, this year's showed another major decline in cancer deaths. This year’s study found another record-breaking 1-year drop in the cancer death rate, with a 2.4 percent decline. Despite this good news, cancer is still the second-most-common cause of death in the United States. The most common is heart disease.1

In 2021, approximately 1.9 million new cancer diagnoses will be made, and more than 600,000 people will die from cancer.1

The American Cancer Society report

The Cancer Facts and Figures 2021 report is a companion report to the article Cancer Statistics, 2021. Each year, the ACS presents a report on cancer facts. The information includes statistics on survival, diagnosis, and cancer trends in the United States. This has taken place every year since 1951. This year, there is also a special section on COVID-19 and cancer.

Decline in death rates

Cancer death rates went up in the 20th century, mainly because of smoking. Since peaking in 1991, cancer death rates have dropped 31 percent overall. The last 2 years have each marked a record drop in cancer death rates. This is likely from fewer people smoking, along with better screening and treatment for certain kinds of cancers.1

The 4 most common kinds of cancer – lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate – have all had long-term reductions in death rates. Examples include:1

  • The largest decline in cancer deaths is lung cancer, for which the rate decreased by more than 5 percent per year in men and 4 percent in women from 2014 to 2018.
  • Increased use of mammography and treatment advances helped lower the breast cancer death rate by more than 40 percent from 1989 to 2018.
  • Colorectal cancer deaths fell 55 percent from 1970 to 2018, mostly from better screening and treatment. However, colorectal cancer diagnoses and deaths have increased in those under the age of 55.

Disparities in cancer

Cancer disparities are differences in who gets cancer and their disease courses after diagnosis. Disparities affect how well people do during treatment, along with cancer survival rates. The differences are based on age, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and where people live. Unequal healthcare is still a major problem.1

Some examples of current cancer disparities include:1

  • In 1993, the cancer death rate was 33 percent higher in Black people than white people. In 2018, this number dropped to 13 percent.
  • For most cancers, Black people still do not survive as long after diagnosis as white people do.
  • Black men with prostate cancer are 2 times as likely to die from that cancer than are men of any other racial or ethnic group.
  • Black women with breast cancer are 40 percent more likely to die than are white women, despite similar diagnosis rates.
  • Cancer is still the leading cause of death for people of Alaskan Native, Hispanic, and Asian American heritage.

Cancer and COVID-19

Every year, the report has a special section for issues the ACS wants to focus on. This year, the section covered COVID-19 and cancer. The COVID-19 pandemic has most significantly impacted access to care. This can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment. Eventually, this may result in more late-stage diagnoses and increased cancer deaths.1

Coping behaviors like drinking alcohol, reduced physical activity, and poor diet have increased during the pandemic. These can also lead to health issues in the long run.1

Key takeaways

Although much progress has been made, there are some highlights that show where more work needs to be done:1

  • The HPV vaccination rate in the United States is lower than in many other high-income countries, while cervical cancer is the second-most-common cause of cancer death for U.S. women in their 20s and 30s.
  • Mortality rates have decreased overall, including those of the most common cancers, lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate.
  • The progress that has been made is mostly due to lowered rates of smoking, earlier modes of detection, and improved treatments.
  • Cancer is still a leading cause of death, and more work needs to be done, especially with health disparities.
  • We will not know just how much COVID-19 has affected cancer and its care for several years.

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