From Which Cancer Will You Die?

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

Despite our best efforts, the cumulative mortality rate remains 100%. Though biomedical scientists have not made any progress in lowering that number, they have helped change how we die. In 1900, for instance, the top three causes of death were due to infectious disease: pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infection. But thanks to medical advances, today, the top three causes of death are due to lifestyle and genetics: heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease.

Many Americans pessimistically believe that we are losing the so-called “War on Cancer.” That is patently untrue. Still, about 25% of Americans will end up with “cancer” written on their death certificates.

Assuming you, dear reader, are one of those unlucky 25%, from which cancer can you expect to die? It partially depends on if you are a man or a woman. An article in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians has estimated the number of American deaths from various cancers for 2014:

For the most part, men and women die from the same types of cancers and in roughly equal proportions. But there are notable exceptions.

Among women, 15% of cancer deaths are due to breast cancer, while breast cancer is almost nonexistent among men. (About 430 men will die of breast cancer in 2014.) Men die disproportionately from cancers of the digestive system (especially, esophageal and liver cancer), the respiratory system (especially, lung and larynx cancer) and the urinary system (especially, bladder and kidney cancer). Surprisingly, men and women die in roughly equal proportions from cancers of the genital system: Men die from prostate cancer, while women die from ovarian and uterine cancers.

Overall, more men (310,010) than women (275,710) will die from cancer in the U.S. in 2014. (In 2010, the mortality rate was 215.3 per 100,000 for men and 149.7 per 100,000 for women.)

After all that glum data, let us end on a somewhat happier note. Though 233,000 men will be newly diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, only 29,480 are expected to die from it. Similarly, though 232,670 women are expected to develop breast cancer, only 40,000 will die from it. This serves as a testament to the success of public health campaigns and to improvements in cancer treatment. Indeed, five-year survival rates for prostate cancer increased from 68% in 1977 to 100% in 2009. Similarly, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer increased from 75% in 1977 to 90% in 2009.

Thus, for many Americans, a cancer diagnosis is no longer necessarily a death sentence.

Source: Rebecca Siegel, Jiemin Ma, Zhaohui Zou, Ahmedin Jemal. “Cancer Statistics, 2014.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 64 (1): 9-29. Jan/Feb 2014. DOI: 10.3322/caac.21208