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Cancer. 2003 Jun 15;97(12 Suppl):3133-275.

Long-term trends in cancer mortality in the United States, 1930-1998.

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Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society, National Home Office, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Erratum in

  • Cancer. 2005 Jun 15;103(12):2658.



Progress against cancer can be examined by analyzing long-term trends in cancer incidence and mortality. The recent directive from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adopt the 2000 U.S. standard population for the age adjustment of death rates prompted the American Cancer Society to update historical cancer mortality statistics using the new standard.


Mortality data were abstracted by race, gender, year, and age at death for 1930 through 1959 from annual volumes of Vital Statistics of the United States. For 1960 through 1998, these data were obtained from data tapes provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. Two U.S. standard million populations (1970 and 2000) were used to calculate age-adjusted rates. Average annual percent change was estimated for each decade by site, gender, and age, and the statistical significance of the change was assessed at p < 0.05.


After long-term increases or mostly level trends that date from the 1930s for some sites, death rates for cancers of the lung (in males), prostate, female breast, colon-rectum, pancreas, leukemia, and ovary were decreasing in the 1990s. Liver cancer death rates were increasing in the 1990s. Throughout the study period, death rates for female lung cancer increased, while death rates for stomach and uterine cancers declined.


The trends of decreasing cancer death rates for the leading cancer sites in the 1990s are encouraging. However, surveillance researchers must continue to monitor these declines to assess whether the progress seen in this decade persists. Efforts also must be made to study the sites with increasing trends and identify potential underlying causes.

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