Gastrointestinal Cancer Deaths in the U.S.


Changes in Gastrointestinal Cancer Deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2020


Between 1999 and 2020, over three million people in the United States lost their lives to gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, with diseases like colon cancer being among the most common causes. This article aims to provide patients and their families with a clear understanding of how these cancer mortality rates have changed over two decades, highlighting the areas of progress and ongoing challenges.

During this 21-year period, the overall death rate from GI cancers has thankfully decreased slightly, by about 0.9% each year on average. This decline is encouraging and reflects improvements in healthcare, such as better cancer screenings and more effective treatments.

Notable Findings:

  • Decreases in Some Cancers: Death rates from several types of GI cancers, including those of the colon, stomach, and gallbladder, have decreased.
  • Increases in Other Cancers: Unfortunately, other types, such as pancreatic and liver cancers, have seen an increase in death rates.
  • Racial Disparities: The data shows mixed outcomes across different racial groups. African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans generally saw more significant decreases in cancer death rates compared to Whites. However, non-White groups overall still face higher mortality rates.

Key Factors Influencing Cancer Mortality

Several factors contribute to the observed trends in cancer-related deaths:

  1. Advancements in Medical Practices: The broad use of colonoscopy screenings has greatly reduced deaths from colon cancer. Detection and removal of polyps before they can develop into cancer have been a game-changer.
  2. Impact of Lifestyle Diseases: Increases in obesity and diabetes are linked to higher rates of pancreatic and liver cancers.
  3. Improved Treatments: Treatments for infections that lead to stomach cancer, like those targeting Helicobacter pylori, have effectively reduced stomach cancer rates.

What Does This Mean for You?

Understanding the shifts in gastrointestinal (GI) cancer mortality rates has direct implications for patients, families, and anyone concerned about their health. Here’s what these findings mean for you and how you can use this information:

  1. Emphasis on Early Detection: One of the key takeaways from the study is the significant impact of early detection on survival rates. Regular screenings, like colonoscopies, can detect cancers early when they are most treatable. For example, the decrease in colon cancer mortality is largely due to the widespread use of colonoscopy screenings that can identify and remove precancerous polyps. This underscores the importance of participating in recommended screening programs, especially if you are at an increased risk due to family history or other factors.
  2. Awareness of Risk Factors: The data highlights the rising impact of lifestyle-related risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes, on certain types of GI cancers, particularly pancreatic and liver cancers. Being aware of these risk factors can help you make informed lifestyle choices. Maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing diabetes effectively can potentially lower your risk of developing these cancers.
  3. Impact of Racial and Ethnic Disparities: The observed racial disparities in cancer mortality rates suggest that social determinants of health, such as access to healthcare, socioeconomic status, and cultural factors, play significant roles in cancer outcomes. Advocating for better healthcare access and tailored public health interventions can help address these disparities. Additionally, if you belong to a higher-risk group, you might consider more frequent screenings and discussions with your healthcare provider about your specific risks.
  4. Advancements in Treatments: Improved treatments have led to decreased mortality rates for some types of GI cancers. Staying informed about the latest treatment options available, including clinical trials, can be crucial. For instance, treatments targeting specific bacteria that cause stomach cancer have significantly reduced mortality rates, highlighting the importance of treatment for infection-related conditions.
  5. Preventive Measures: The study also highlights the effectiveness of preventive health measures, such as vaccinations for viruses that can lead to liver cancer. Keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and preventive treatments can be a vital step in reducing your cancer risk.
  6. Personalized Healthcare: The differences in mortality rates based on sex, age, and race emphasize the need for personalized healthcare strategies. Discussing your personal and family medical history with your healthcare provider can help tailor screening and prevention strategies to better suit your individual needs.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite progress, there are still significant challenges, such as the increasing mortality rates from certain cancers and persistent racial disparities in health outcomes. These issues highlight the need for continued research, better access to healthcare, and more targeted public health interventions.


The decline in overall GI cancer mortality in the United States is a positive sign, but the fight against these diseases is far from over. By understanding the changes in cancer trends and the factors that influence them, patients and healthcare providers can better navigate the challenges ahead. Continued advancements in medical science, combined with effective public health strategies, hold the promise of further reducing the burden of GI cancers.


  1. Ali H, Ishtiaq R, Tedder B, et al. Trends in mortality from gastrointestinal, hepatic, and pancreatic cancers in the United States: A comprehensive analysis (1999-2020). JGH Open 2024 Apr 15;8:e13064.
Last update: 18 April 2024, 18:14


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group