US cancer death rates for some of the deadliest – and most common – types of cancer are declining, but not nearly as fast as its been hoped. The Cancer Moonshot program, reinvigorated in 2022 by the Biden Administration, has called for a nationwide effort to lower the cancer death rate by half over the next 25 years.

US Cancer Death Rates Decline – But Slower Than Expected

The US National Cancer Institute examined cancer mortality data from 2000 to 2019 to learn more about what policies and trends have the largest impacts on cancer deaths. The numbers send a mixed message. Cancer deaths declined 2.3% each year from 2016 through 2019. That would amount to a 44% decline in the cancer death rate by 2047. It’s short of the 50% goal established by the Cancer Moonshot program, but a remarkable improvement.

Disproportionate Mortality Rates Increase Challenges

Six types of cancer are responsible for more than half of all US cancer deaths per year, all of which are more common in older populations. As US demographics shift, these cancers may skew the death rate over the next decade.

To meet the goal, public health officials will need to address these six types of cancer head-on:

  • Lung cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Liver cancer

Read more: Ultraprocessed Foods Linked to Colorectal Cancer in Men

What’s Driving the Decline in the US Cancer Death Rate?

A steady decline in lung cancer deaths has buoyed hopes of overall success. Lower smoking rates have contributed to a 4.7% decline in lung cancer mortality each year between 2014 and 2019.

Other types of cancer have proven tougher to address. Liver and pancreatic cancer mortality rates have essentially plateaued over the past decade, although advances in antiviral therapies could put a sizeable dent into both illnesses as they complete trial phases

Prevention’s Role in Reducing the US Cancer Mortality Rate

Between 50-60% of all types of cancer are preventable. Cancer prevention initiatives have an outsized impact on lowering cancer diagnosis rates and mortality, playing a critical role in lowering the US cancer death rate by 27% since 2001.

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