The report, published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Thursday, includes data from 2001 to 2018, meaning it does not reflect cancer incidence or deaths rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decline in cancer death rates held true for both men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. The report showed a decrease in death rates among 11 of the 19 most common cancers in men and 14 of the 20 most common cancers in women. That overall decline translates into an average 2.2% cancer death rate decrease per year for men and an average 1.7% decrease per year for women.
Experts attributed the decline in deaths to reduced smoking rates and targeted cancer treatments.
"The continued decline in cancer death rates should be gratifying to the cancer research community, as evidence that scientific advances over several decades are making a real difference in outcomes at the population level," Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, one of the groups that collaborated on the report, said in a statement.
Despite those gains, death rates for a few types of cancers, including uterus, brain, nervous system and pancreatic cancers, increased.
Additionally, cancer incidence rates among women, children, adolescents and young adults rose between 2014 and 2018, the report found. The most common cancer among adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39 was female breast cancer. Among children younger than 15, the most common cancers were leukemia, lymphoma and brain and nervous system cancers. Although the incidence of cancer is increasing among women, in general, cancer incidence rates are higher for men.
"I believe we could achieve even further improvements if we address obesity, which has the potential to overtake tobacco use to become the leading modifiable factor associated with cancer," Sharpless added.