An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States

Death rates from cancer dropped 26% from 1999 to 2018.

Cancer death rates dropped 26% over 20 years, between 1999 and 2018. See more images to share.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. In 2018, there were 599,274 cancer deaths; 283,721 were among females and 315,553 among males. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 24% of all cancer deaths.

Is cancer increasing or decreasing?

Cancer death rates decreased every year during the past 20-year data period (1999 to 2018). Cancer death rates are higher among males than females, although this gap has narrowed over time.



Figure 1. Age-adjusted cancer death rates by sex, United States, 1999–2018
See the descriptive table below.

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. The Healthy People 2020 objective was to reduce the overall cancer death rate to 161.4 per 100,000 population; more information available at www.healthypeople.gov.external icon See the data table for more information.

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

Did the leading causes of cancer death change between 1999 and 2018?

From 1999 to 2018, death rates—

  • Increased for 3 common cancer sites (liver and intrahepatic bile duct, pancreas, and corpus uterus).
  • Decreased for 16 cancer sites (lung and bronchus, colon and rectum, female breast, prostate, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, stomach, larynx, melanoma of the skin, cervix uteri, ovary, kidney and renal pelvis, bladder, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma).
  • Were stable for brain and other nervous system cancers.

In the past 5 years, trends shifted for some cancers. Death rates leveled off for cancers of the liver (which were increasing) and prostate (which were decreasing) and increased for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx (which had decreased during 1999 to 2009) and cancers of the brain and other nervous system (which were stable). See the data table for more information.

Figure 2. Age-adjusted cancer death rates, by cancer type, United States, 1999 and 2018
See the descriptive table below.

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. Change in rates was assessed using average annual percentage change in rates estimated with Joinpoint regression. See the data table for more information.

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 sex, racial and ethnic group, U.S. Census region, and residence in an urban or rural county.

Figure 3. Age-adjusted cancer death rates, by characteristics, United States, 2018
See the descriptive table below.

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. Rural/urban status was based on county of residence, classified using the 2013 NCHS Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for Counties. Healthy People objectives are available at www.healthypeople.gov.external icon See the data table for more information.

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

In 2018, there were 1,220 cancer deaths among children younger than 15 years, 9,208 among adolescents and young adults age 15 to 39 years, and 588,837 among adults age 40 years or older (age was not recorded for 9 deaths).

Figure 4. Age-specific cancer death rates, United States, 2018
See the descriptive table below.

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). See the data table for more information.

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

By state, the death rate for all cancers combined ranged from 120.0 to 181.6 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.

A group of survivors

Death rates from cancer dropped 26% in 20 years. There are more cancer survivors than ever before.

Why did cancer death rates change from 1999 to 2018?

Previous researchexternal icon 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 2018. 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 Vital Signs: Cancer and Obesity.
  • 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. More information can be found at www.cdc.gov/cancer.

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. Annual percentage change and average annual percentage change in rates were estimated with Joinpoint regression. Up to 3 joinpoints could be specified, for a maximum of 4 trend periods.

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; 2020.

CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, Director
Nicole Dowling, PhD, MPH, Associate Director for Science