Projected Reductions in Absolute Cancer-Related Deaths from Diagnosing Cancers Before Metastasis, 2006-2015

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 May;29(5):895-902. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-1366. Epub 2020 Mar 30.


Background: New technologies are being developed for early detection of multiple types of cancer simultaneously. To quantify the potential benefit, we estimated reductions in absolute cancer-related deaths that could occur if cancers diagnosed after metastasis (stage IV) were instead diagnosed at earlier stages.

Methods: We obtained stage-specific incidence and survival data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program for 17 cancer types for all persons diagnosed ages 50 to 79 years in 18 geographic regions between 2006 and 2015. For a hypothetical cohort of 100,000 persons, we estimated cancer-related deaths under assumptions that cancers diagnosed at stage IV were diagnosed at earlier stages.

Results: Stage IV cancers represented 18% of all estimated diagnoses but 48% of all estimated cancer-related deaths within 5 years. Assuming all stage IV cancers were diagnosed at stage III, 51 fewer cancer-related deaths would be expected per 100,000, a reduction of 15% of all cancer-related deaths. Assuming one third of metastatic cancers were diagnosed at stage III, one third diagnosed at stage II, and one third diagnosed at stage I, 81 fewer cancer-related deaths would be expected per 100,000, a reduction of 24% of all cancer-related deaths, corresponding to a reduction in all-cause mortality comparable in magnitude to eliminating deaths due to cerebrovascular disease.

Conclusions: Detection of multiple cancer types earlier than stage IV could reduce at least 15% of cancer-related deaths within 5 years, affecting not only cancer-specific but all-cause mortality.

Impact: Detecting cancer before stage IV, including modest shifts to stage III, could offer substantial population benefit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Neoplasm Staging / statistics & numerical data
  • Neoplasm Staging / trends
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • SEER Program / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology