Today's Cancer Trends

In 2001, the National Cancer Institute began producing the NCI Cancer Trends Progress Report. Since then, it has updated it annually. The Report gives us an overall summary on the incidence and mortality of different types of cancer.

So, if you're wondering whether cancer rates are going up or down, here are a few highlights from the most recent update (2009/2010) 

  • Death rates for prostate, lung, breast, and colorectal cancers (the four most common types) continue to decline.
  • The rate of cancer incidence has declined since the early 2000s.
  • The length of survival increased for all cancers combined.
  • The incidence of certain types of cancer is rising: melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood cancers, and other less common cancers, such as kidney, pancreas, and liver.
  • Lung cancer is still rising in women, but at a slower rate.
  • The death rates for pancreatic, esophageal, thyroid, and liver cancer are increasing.
  • Screening for breast cancer has declined somewhat, and screening for colorectal cancer is low.

The National Cancer Institute is not the only entity that keeps track of cancer statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of new cancer cases and the number of deaths from cancer in men has declined the past few decades, primarily because fewer men are smoking. The leading causes of cancer death in men are lung, prostate, liver, and colorectal cancer (in that order).

Women are most likely to die from lung, breast, and colorectal cancer, although the CDC also reports that the incidence of, and death from, breast cancer has declined significantly. Women in the U.S. have the highest rate of lung cancer deaths in the world.

When examining trends in cancer, it's important to look at age-adjusted rates, not just raw numbers. Age-adjusted rates control for the fact that as the number of older people in a population increases, the number of cases of cancer may increase, since cancer is more likely to occur in older people. So, while the absolute number of cases may be increasing, the risks for individuals might be declining or holding steady.

According to an analysis by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the age-adjusted rates of cancer have remained nearly constant over the last century. However, we can expect the absolute numbers of new cancer cases to increase. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of individuals age 60 or older will triple by 2050.

National Cancer Institute. "Cancer Trends Progress Report: 2009/2010 Update." Web.

American Association of Cancer Research. "Cancer to become the world's deadliest disease." Press release. Web. January 2009.

Centers for Disease Control. "Lung cancer trends." Web. 12 March 2010.

Centers for Disease Control. "Breast Cancer Trends." Web. 12 March 2010.​trends.htm

Centers for Disease Control. "United States Cancer Statistics." Web. 3 January 2011.

Logomasini, Angela. "Cancer Trends." Competitive Enterprise Institute 2008. Web.