Cancer mortality rates have plummeted in the U.S., with advances in screening and treatment of the disease preventing over a million deaths from the deadly illness in the past two decades.

According to the American Cancer Society's (ACS) annual report on cancer statistics, death rates have fallen by 1.8 percent a year for men and 1.6 percent for women between 2004 and 2008. Cancer incidence rates declined by 0.6 percent per year in men and were stable in women during that period.

Between 1999 and 2008, cancer death rates dropped by more than 1 percent per year in men and women in every racial and ethnic group with the exception of American Indians/Alaska Natives, among whom rates have remained relatively stable.

As per the report released Wednesday, death rates drastically declined among black men, falling by 2.4 percent. Likewise, death rates for Hispanic men fell by 2.3 percent.

Further progress can be accelerated by applying existing cancer control knowledge across all segments of the population, with an emphasis on those groups in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, authors of the ACS annual report said.

Other findings include a decline in death rates from lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers. For men the composite decrease in lung, prostate and colorectal cancer death rates account for 78 percent of the total decline, with lung cancer accounting for nearly 40 percent of the decrease. Among women, decrease in deaths from breast cancer account for 34 percent of the total decline, with a composite decline of 56 percent in breast and colorectal cancer deaths.

This is really very exciting, said Ahmedin Jemal of the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society and co-author of the report. Of course, the decrease is due to improvements in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment, she added in a in a statement on ABC News.

Despite the drop in mortality in all four major cancer sites, a new study published in the November issue of Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery revealed that other cancer groups have been on the rise over the past decade. These include less common cancers of the pancreas, liver, thyroid, kidney as well as certain types of throat cancer associated with human papillomaviruses, as noted by Reuters.

One of the biggest reasons for the overall reduction in cancer deaths is the drop in smoking rates, a major carcinogenic factor especially for throat and lung cancer cases.

The ACS estimates there will be over 1.6 million new cases of invasive cancers and 577,190 cancer-related deaths for the year 2012.

Although the decline may not seem a significant figure, it does indicate that the healthcare system is moving in the right direction.

It's good news, said Jemal on ABC News, But there's more room for improvement, more room to accelerate progress in reducing cancer death rates.