An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States

Cancer Deaths in the United States. Cancer death rates dropped 27% from 1999 to 2019.

Cancer death rates dropped 27% from 1999 to 2019. See more images to share.

Cancer was the second leading cause of death, after heart disease, in the United States in 2019. In 2019, there were 599,601 cancer deaths; 283,725 were among females and 315,876 among males.

Is cancer increasing or decreasing?

From 1999 to 2019, cancer death rates went down 27%, from 200.8 to 146.2 deaths per 100,000 population. Healthy People 2030 set a target of 122.7 cancer deathsexternal icon per 100,00 population. Cancer death rates went down more among males (31%) than among females (25%) but were still higher among males (172.9 deaths per 100,000 population) than females (126.2 deaths per 100,000 population).

NOTES: Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms). Rates were age-adjusted to the 2000 US standard population.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality Data.

What were the leading causes of cancer death in 2019?

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 23% of all cancer deaths. Other common causes of cancer death were cancers of the colon and rectum (9%), pancreas (8%), female breast (7%), prostate (5%), and liver and intrahepatic bile duct (5%). Other cancers individually accounted for less than 5% of cancer deaths.

In 2019—

  • 139,603 people died of lung cancer (64,743 females and 74,860 males).
  • 51,896 people died of colorectal cancer (24,222 females and 27,674 males).
  • 45,886 people died of pancreatic cancer (22,154 females and 23,732 males).
  • 42,281 females died of breast cancer.
  • 31,638 males died of prostate cancer.
  • 27,959 people died of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer (9,267 females and 18,692 males).

NOTES: Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms).

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality Data.

Do some groups experience higher rates than others?

Cancer death rates differed by cancer type, sex, racial and ethnic group, and residence in an urban or rural county. Healthy People 2030 objectives include reducing death rates for lung cancerexternal icon to 25.1 deaths per 100,000 population, colorectal cancerexternal icon to 8.9 deaths per 100,000 population, female breast cancerexternal icon to 15.3 deaths per 100,000 female population, and prostate cancerexternal icon to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 male population.

NOTES: Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms). Rates were age-adjusted to the 2000 US standard population. Urban/rural status was based on county of residence, classified using the 2013 NCHS Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for Counties.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality Data.

In 2019—

  • 1,115 children younger than 15 years old died of cancer.
  • 9,084 adolescents and young adults between 15 to 39 years old died of cancer.
  • 153,928 adults between 40 to 64 years old died of cancer
  • 435,462 adults who were 65 years old or older died of cancer.

Note: Age was not recorded for 12 deaths.

NOTES: Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms).

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality Data.

By state, the death rate for all cancers combined ranged from 117.2 to 179.1 per 100,000 standard population.

NOTES: Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms). Rates were age-adjusted to the 2000 US standard population.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality Data.

Why did cancer death rates change from 1999 to 2019?

Previous research suggests that trends in cancer death rates reflect population changes in cancer risk factors, screening test use, diagnostic practices, and treatment advances. More information can be found in the blog post Conversations with Authors: The Annual Report to the Nation. Some examples are highlighted below.

  • Cigarette smoking contributes to the development of cancers throughout the body. Fewer people are smoking cigarettes: in 1965, 42% of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes compared to 14% in 2019. About two-thirds of people who smoke want to quit. For more information and quitting resources, visit Tips From Former Smokers.
  • Overweight and obesity also contribute to the development of cancers throughout the body, including cancers of the liver, pancreas, and uterus. Some states and communities are providing support that can help people get to and keep a healthy weight. For more information, visit Obesity and Cancer.
  • Cancer screening tests can find cancer early, when treatment works best. Screening tests for colorectal cancer can also find polyps, which can be removed before they become cancerous. For more information, visit Cancer Screening Tests.
  • Since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new treatments for advanced melanoma. For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s New Therapies Are Changing the Outlook for Advanced Melanoma.external icon

What is CDC doing to reduce cancer deaths?

CDC’s framework to reduce cancer deaths includes eliminating preventable cancers, ensuring that all people get the right screening at the right time, and helping cancer survivors live longer, healthier lives. CDC supports foundational programs that aim to reduce the cancer burden through multi-disciplinary collaboration and coordination. These programs include the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, the Colorectal Cancer Control Program, the National Program of Cancer Registries, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program.

Data source and methods

The data shown in this report reflect information collected by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics from death certificates filed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compiled into the National Vital Statistics System. Deaths were classified using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Cancer deaths were identified using underlying cause-of-death codes C00-C97 (malignant neoplasms). Rates were age-adjusted to the 2000 US standard population.

Suggested citation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control; 2021.

CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, Director
Nicole Dowling, PhD, MPH, Associate Director for Science
Jane Henley, MSPH, Epidemiologist

Page last reviewed: February 23, 2021