Cancer mortality rates decreased by 27% from 1999–2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in February 2021. However, cancer remains the one of the leading causes of death in the United States, second only to heart disease, and disparities remain. More needs to be done to decrease risk and increase prevention.

CDC’s annual report showed that cancer death rates went down more among patients who identify as men (31%) than those who identify as women (25%). CDC attributed the decline to decreases in smoking and obesity, improvements in treatments for advanced disease, and increases in cancer screening.

However, mortality rates are still higher among men with cancer (172.9 deaths per 100,000 population) compared to women (126.2 deaths per 100,000 population).

Lung cancer accounted for 23% of all cancer deaths, making it the leading cause of disease mortality. In 2019 alone, 139,603 people died from lung cancer in the United States.

Other cancers with the highest mortality rates were:

  • Colorectal (9%)
  • Pancreatic (8%)
  • Breast (in patients who identify as female; 7%)
  • Prostate (5%)
  • Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer (5%)

Other cancers individually accounted for less than 5% of cancer deaths. The majority of deaths (435,462) were in patients 65 years or older and from the Midwest and Southeastern regions of the country.

In response, CDC pledged to focus on eliminating preventable cancers and promoting regular screening. Patient education is crucial to cancer prevention. Oncology nurses must dispel fear, spread the truth, and encourage screening for all patients, no matter their gender identity, race and ethnicity, or financial situation.