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Using Science to Prevent Cancer

Photo of a group of researchers

CDC’s latest cancer research found that skin cancer is on the rise in the United States, and rates will keep going up without community efforts. It also looked at our breast and cervical cancer screening program, and helped track cancer deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than half a million Americans every year.1 CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control does research to find better ways to prevent cancer and support people with cancer.

Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer2

Every year since 1998, CDC, the American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and the National Cancer Institute have published this report. It provides an update of cancer incidence (new cases) and death rates and trends in these rates in the United States, as well as an in-depth analysis of a selected topic.

The latest report, published in March 2015, shows that death rates from all cancers combined for men, women, and children continued to go down in the United States.

For the first time, the special feature describes the rate of new breast cancer cases by major molecular subtypes that are used by clinicians. These four subtypes respond differently to treatment and have different survival rates. This could help guide treatment.

Skin Cancer Is a Major Public Health Problem

Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States, and rates of new cases have continued to increase in recent years. Most cases of skin cancer can be prevented. Under the direction of the Office of the Surgeon General, CDC researchers prepared The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, which addresses skin cancer as a major public health problem in a comprehensive way.

Many partners are needed to—

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings.
  • Provide people with information they need to make informed, healthy choices about exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Promote policies that help prevent skin cancer.
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning.
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention.
Photo of a woman applying sunscreen to a young girl's face

Vital Signs: Preventing Melanoma—Communities Play a Vital Role3

Melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Without more community prevention efforts, rates of new melanoma cases will keep going up over the next 15 years, with 112,000 new cases expected in 2030. The annual cost of treating new melanoma cases is expected to nearly triple from $457 million in 2011 to $1.6 billion in 2030. But community skin cancer prevention programs could prevent about 230,000 melanoma skin cancers and save $2.7 billion in treatment costs by 2030. Successful programs feature community efforts that combine education, mass media campaigns, and policy changes to increase skin protection for children and adults.

Research Nominated for the Charles C. Shepard Science Award

The Charles C. Shepard Science Award is presented to the best manuscript on original research published by a CDC or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) scientist in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. Nominees for the 2014 Shepard Award included two papers from CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

Impact of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program on cervical cancer mortality among uninsured low-income women in the U.S., 1991–2007.4

This study found that CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program has reduced cervical cancer deaths and prolonged healthy survival among low-income women without health insurance who were never or rarely screened. This study can help policymakers make evidence-based decisions about the future of the program in similar populations with unmet needs.

Methods for improving the quality and completeness of mortality data for American Indians and Alaska Natives5

Historically, problems with the accuracy of race classification for death certificates for American Indians and Alaska Natives led to a lack of information about deaths for this race group. For the first time, CDC linked data on all deaths in the United States from 1990 to 2009 in the National Death Index with the Indian Health Service patient registration file, providing more accurate information about causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives. This information can guide planning and evaluation of public health interventions.


1U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2011 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2014. Accessed July 14, 2015.

2Kohler BA, Sherman RL, Howlader N, Jemal A, Ryerson AB, Henry KA, Boscoe FP, Cronin KA, Lake A, Noone AM, Henley SJ, Eheman CR, Anderson RN, Penberthy L. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975–2011, featuring incidence of breast cancer subtypes by race/ethnicity, poverty, and state. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2015;107(6):djv048.

3Guy GP, Jr, Thomas CC, Thompson T, Watson M, Massetti GM, Richardson LC. Vital signs: melanoma incidence and mortality trends and projections—United States, 1982–2030. MMWR 2015;64:591–596.

4Ekwueme DU, Uzunangelov VJ, Hoerger TJ, Miller JW, Saraiya M, Benard VB, Hall IJ, Royalty J, Li C, Myers ER. Impact of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program on cervical cancer mortality among uninsured low-income women in the U.S., 1991–2007. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2014;47(3):300–308.

5Espey DK, Jim MA, Richards TB, Begay C, Haverkamp D, Roberts D. Methods for improving the quality and completeness of mortality data for American Indians and Alaska Natives. American Journal of Public Health 2014;104(S3):S286–S294.