Questions for Sally C. Curtin, M.A., Demographer/Statistician and Lead Author on “Declines in Cancer Death Rates Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1999-2014”
Q: How have trends in cancer death rates for children and adolescents in the United States changed over time?
SC: This report presents recent trends in cancer death rates for children and adolescents in the United States, at the turn of and during the first part of the 21st century. Cancer deaths to children and adolescents had been declining since the 1970s through the end of the 20th century. This report shows that the decline continued from 1999-2014, by 20%. The declines were for both males and females aged 1-19, for all 5-year age groups within the 1-19 age range, and for white and black children and adolescents.
Q: What type of cancer is taking our young people in the United States now – and which kind of cancer has been the greatest cause of death for youth over the years?
SC: I think when you say “childhood cancer”, most people first think of leukemia, as this type of cancer had been the leading type for decades–both in terms of incidence and deaths. However, what our report shows is that there was a shift during the 1999-2014 period, and the leading type of cancer causing death in children and adolescents aged 1-19 years is now brain cancer. This is a recent development as the number of brain cancer deaths first exceeded that of leukemia in 2011; 2014 was the first year that this difference was statistically significant.
Q: Was the decline experienced for all age groups within the 1-19 years of age range?
SC: Yes, all 5-year age groups experienced declines, with the youngest children, those aged 1-4, having the largest percentage decline of 26%. In 2014, death rates for children ages 1-4, 5-9, and 10-14 years were not significantly different from each other, while rates for older adolescents aged 15-19 were the highest of all groups.
Q: What are the trends among race and ethnicity groups in cancer death rates for young Americans?
SC: This report shows that there is parity in cancer death rates among white and black children and adolescents aged 1-19. The parity was there for all three years–1999, 2006, and 2014–and both groups experienced declines over the period.
Q: What do you think is the most significant finding in your new study?
SC: Probably the recent shift in the leading site, from leukemia to brain cancer. This is a noteworthy development in the history of childhood cancer as it was always leukemia until quite recently. Brain cancer deaths to children and adolescents aged 1-19 did not go up over the time period studied, but rather, fluctuated and remained stable. It was the decline for leukemia deaths that caused the crossover in numbers so that the percentage of all cancer deaths is now highest for brain cancer, accounting for 3-in-10 cancer deaths in 2014 for the pediatric population.
Questions for Melonie Heron, Demographer and Lead Author on “Changes in the Leading Cause of Death: Recent Patterns in Heart Disease and Cancer Mortality”
Q: How have trends in deaths from heart disease and cancer changed since 1950?
MH: Since 1950, the number of heart disease deaths generally increased (by 43%) to a peak in 1985, declined (by 23%) from 1985 through 2011, then increased again (by 3%) from 2011 through 2014. In contrast, the number of cancer deaths nearly tripled from 1950 through 2014.
Q: Is it inevitable that cancer will ultimately pass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S.?
MH: Because of the declining gap between heart disease and cancer deaths, it was expected that cancer would overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S. in the early 2010s. However, the reversal in trend for heart disease deaths in 2012 changed that. It remains to be seen whether the uptick in heart disease deaths will be sustained.
Q: Where do heart disease and cancer rank as leading causes of death at the state level, and how has that changed over the years?
MH: Heart disease was the leading cause of death for all U.S. states, with cancer as the second leading cause. In 1990, Alaska became the first state to experience a switch in ranks between these two causes. In 2000, Minnesota experienced the same switch. As of 2014, there are now 22 states with cancer as the leading cause of death.
Q: How have heart disease and cancer changed as leading causes of death among different race/ethnic groups over time?
MH: For the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations, heart disease has consistently been the leading-cause of death, with cancer as the second leading cause. That remained the case in 2014. However, for the non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic populations, cancer deaths have been increasing more than heart disease deaths. Cancer replaced heart disease as the leading cause of death for the non-Hispanic API population in 2000, and for the Hispanic population in 2009.
Q: What do you think is the most significant finding is in your new study?
MH: Despite a narrowing of the gap between heart disease and cancer deaths over time, especially since the 1980s, heart disease remained the leading cause of death for the total U.S. population and for the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations in 2014. This was due, in large part, to a recent increase in heart disease deaths. However, in the non-Hispanic API and Hispanic populations, as well as in 22 states, the mortality burden of cancer has surpassed that of heart disease such that cancer is now the leading cause of death.
QuickStats: Age-Adjusted Death Rates for Males Aged 15–44 Years, by the Five Leading Causes of Death — United States, 1999 and 2014August 12, 2016
The age-adjusted death rate for males aged 15–44 years was 10% lower in 2014 (156.6 per 100,000 population) than in 1999 (174.1).
Among the five leading causes of death, the age-adjusted rates for three were lower in 2014 than in 1999: cancer (from 17.1 to 12.8; 25% decline), heart disease (20.1 to 17.0; 15% decline), and homicide (15.7 to 13.8; 12% decline).
The age-adjusted death rates for two of the five causes were higher in 2014 than in 1999: suicide (20.1 to 22.5; 12% increase), and unintentional injuries (from 48.7 to 51.0; 5% increase).
The death of ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott has generated interest in cancer deaths in the U.S.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S.
The number of cancer deaths are available from the multiple cause of death option on the CDC WONDER database using the C00-C97 ICD Code, “Malignant Neoplasms.”
Here are our latest national numbers on cancer deaths in the U.S. from 1999-2012:
For more information: