Here's the good news about cancer in America: More people than ever are surviving it. The cancer death rate has dropped by nearly 25 percent since its peak in 1991, thanks in part to declines in smoking, advances in prevention and detection and improved treatments.
And yet, as new statistics released Thursday by the American Cancer Society show, cancer remains a complex, confounding and pervasive problem throughout the United States. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the nation, responsible for nearly 600,000 deaths each year, but cancer comes in a close second. In nearly two dozen states, significant drops in death from heart disease have made cancer the top killer.
Cancer also is the primary cause of death among adults ages 40 to 79. And while researchers and doctors have made significant leaps in the survival rates of certain cancers -- deaths from prostate and colorectal cancers have dropped by half over time, for example -- other cancers, such as those in the pancreas and brain, remain stubbornly difficult to detect and treat.
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2016, and that more than 595,000 Americans will die from some form of the disease. The following charts, based on Thursday's data, detail which kinds of cancer are likely to take the heaviest toll and where cases will occur in the largest numbers. For a more detailed look at the organization's projections, check out the full report here.
1) New cancer cases. Doctors likely will diagnose more than 4,600 new cancer cases a day in 2016. For women, the three most commonly diagnosed cancers are breast, lung and bronchus and colorectal, which together represent half of all cases. Breast cancer alone accounts for nearly a third of female cancers. Men most commonly are diagnosed with prostate cancer, which accounts for more than one in five new cases.
2) Cancer deaths. Lung cancer tops the list for both women and men, accounting for more than 160,000 deaths each year. For women, breast cancer leads to the second most deaths; for men, it's prostate cancer.
3) Cancer by state. Some states have meaningfully higher cancer incidence rates than others. Such geographic patterns can reflect a range of factors, such as smoking rates and obesity, as well as poverty and access to health care. Easily the largest geographic variation, according to the American Cancer Society, is for lung cancer, which reflects both historical and ongoing differences in the prevalence of smoking. That's a significant reason why Kentucky, which traditionally has had a large number of smoking, has higher rates of lung cancer than Utah, which has among the nation's lowest percentage of smokers. Here are the states with highest overall incidence of cancer for both men and women, though the numbers vary based on particular types of the disease.
4) In nearly two dozen states, cancer has eclipsed heart disease as the leading cause of death. Experts say this change primarily is attributable to significant progress over the years in reducing death from heart disease. Minnesota's death rate for heart disease, for example, is 30 percent below the national average, according to Thursday's report. Its death rate for cancer is only 6 percent below the national average. In addition, the group said cancer remains the leading cause of death among Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders, who jointly represent a quarter of the U.S. population.
5) Survival rates. A bright spot from Thursday's report: Data showing that survival rates of cancer patients have continued to climb. Overall, the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers has increased by 20 percent among whites and 23 percent among blacks over the past three decades. For some cancers, the change has been remarkable. In the mid-1970s only about 40 percent of people with acute lymphocytic leukemia lived five or more years after diagnosis; more recently, that number climbed to 70 percent. But progress in other areas has been painfully slow. Lung and pancreatic cancers, which are difficult to detect early and can be especially aggressive, have a five-year survival rate of 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively. "While the average American's chances of dying from the disease are significantly lower now than they have been for previous generations," said Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society's chief medical officer, "it continues to be all too often the reason for shortened lives and too much pain and suffering."