It’s mostly good news about cancer incidence and mortality rates in the annual report issued Wednesday by the American Cancer Society. The report estimates that a million cancer deaths have been averted over the past two decades: That represents an overall decrease in death rates of about 23 percent for men and 15 percent for women between 1990/1991 and 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.

Improvements are particularly notable for the cancers responsible for the largest numbers of deaths: lung, colon, breast and prostate cancer mortality rates all have declined.

But the report draws special attention to the less-common cancers whose incidence rates continue to climb, including those of the pancreas, liver, thyroid and kidney. Still, there are huge variations in survivability: While five-year survival rates for thyroid cancer moved from 92 percent in 1975 to 97 percent in 2007, the five-year survival rate for cancers of the pancreas moved from just 2 percent to 6 percent during that period.

The report notes that black men are more likely to get cancer and more likely to die from it than white men; black women are slightly less likely to get cancer but more likely to die from it than white women. Cancer mortality rates for black men have dropped more steeply than those for black women or whites of either gender.

The report projects 1,638,910 new cancer cases and 577,190 deaths from cancer will occur in the U.S. in 2012. A third of those will stem from tobacco use, the report estimates, and another third will result from overweight and obesity, poor nutrition or physical inactivity.

This post has been updated since it was first published.