Deaths rates from cancer dropped 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.6 percent per year in women between 2004 and 2008, according to a new report - a promising trend that experts hope will accelerate in the years to come.
"This is really very exciting," said report co-author Ahmedin Jemal of the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society. "Of course, the decrease is due to improvements in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment."
Over the past 18 years, the steady drop in cancer death rates has translated into more than a million deaths averted, according to the report.
"It's good news," said Jemal. "But there's more room for improvement, more room to accelerate progress in reducing cancer death rates."
Death rates declined for all four of the major cancer sites - lung, colorectum, breast and prostate. But cancers of the pancreas, liver, thyroid, kidney, skin and esophagus are on the rise.
"More effort should be made to understand the risk factors that contribute to the increasing rates of cancer at these sites," said Jemal.
Despite the declining death rate, the number of people dying is actually increasing - a statistic masked by the growing population.
"Although we're making progress, the number of people who are dying from cancer continues to increase because of the aging and growth of the population," said Jemal. "This requires expanding medical centers, more doctors, and puts more demand on the health sector."
Cancer death rates dropped in men and women across almost every racial and ethnic group. But the rate was still 33 percent higher in African American men and 16 percent higher in African American women compared with their white counterparts.
"There are still disparities," said Jemal, describing differences in cancer incidence and survival based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. "Based on what we know about prevention, early detection and treatment, we can do better. We need to apply what we know to all segments of the population."