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Expand chart
Data: ACS' Cancer Statistics, 2019; Note: "Poor" counties are those in which the poverty rate is between 21.18% and 53.95%, while "rich" counties have poverty rates between 1.81% and 10.84%. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

American deaths from cancer dropped 27% overall from 1991 to 2016, and racial disparities are slowly narrowing, according to a major new report from the American Cancer Society.

Yes, but: This isn't the same for all Americans or the case for all cancers. The gap in the success rate is widening between socioeconomic groups, particularly in preventable cancers. And deaths from some cancers, mostly related to obesity, continue to rise.

The good news:

  • There were roughly 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths over that 25-year period than would have happened if the peak rates in 1991 had remained the same, Rebecca Siegel, report author and ACS' strategic director of surveillance information services, tells Axios.
  • The 4 major cancers — lung, breast, prostate and colorectal — all show declines. (Lung cancer deaths have decreased since 1991, but the Axios chart above shows an overall increase since 1970 due to the majority of women smokers picking up the habit later than men.)
  • The declines in the 4 cancers are mainly due to less smoking and advances in early detection and treatment, Siegel says.
  • The racial disparity is lessening. Black people had death rates 33% higher than white people in 1993, but that gap dropped to 14% in 2016.
  • Survival rates for most cancers have improved, except for lung and pancreatic cancers, which tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

The bad news:

  • Cancer remained the second leading cause of death in the U.S in 2016.
  • The socioeconomic gap in cancer mortality is growing, Siegel says. For example, poor women have twice as many deaths from cervical cancer than affluent women — and this is mostly preventable. Lung and liver cancer mortality also is more than 40% higher in poor men compared to affluent men.
"Poor people have less access to quality health care. Not only are they unable to get systematic screenings, but treatment options are oftentimes not the highest quality."
— Rebecca Siegel
  • Incidence rates have increased for melanoma and cancers of the liver, thyroid, uterine corpus and pancreas — and some of this has been linked to the obesity epidemic, Siegel adds.
  • Prostate cancer deaths, which had been dropping, have recently flattened.

Of note: The impacts of the Affordable Care Act on prevention and treatment and the HPV vaccine on cervical cancer rates are not yet included in these statistics. "Death from cervical cancers is very preventable. [And yet,] almost 10 women per week in their 20s and 30s died from cervical cancer in 2016," Siegel says.

The bottom line: If disadvantaged groups could have better access to regular screenings and better treatments, cancer deaths would continue to decline for all Americans, Siegel says. "Many of these deaths are unnecessary."

Go deeper

Updated 25 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

1 hour ago - World

UAE asks U.S. to reinstate Houthi terrorist designation after attack

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (left) listens to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a joint news conference at the State Department iin October. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call Monday to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.

Why it matters: Less than a month after he assumed office, President Biden rolled back the Trump administration’s decision to make the designation. He said it hampered humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Since then, the Houthis have escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region — including an attack Monday in Abu Dhabi.

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