A new report says more than 1.5 million people have had their lives spared as the death rate for cancer dropped over the past 20 years.

The report comes from the American Cancer Society, and it claims that overall there's been a 22-percent drop in the cancer death rate.

In fact, the deaths from cancer have been falling in every state across the board. However, southern states have shown the smallest decrease, just 15 percent, while northeastern states show the highest drop of 25 to 30 percent.

The American Cancer Society report is good news for Dr. Michael Snyder, a physician with Montana Cancer Specialists.

"It's been just absolutely phenomenal. Health care has improved," said Snyder.

He's worked with cancer patients for 30 years. In that time, he's seen incredible advancements in the technology of cancer treatment.

"You used to have to get a bone marrow transplant to have a chance at a longer life and now we have pills with almost no side effects that make the disease go away," said Snyder.

Pills like ibrutinib and imatnib can help give patients another chance at life, and the treatment isn't as intense.

The report acknowledges that cancer prevention is getting more attention. Early detection and a drop in U.S. smoking habits are making a difference.

"Smoking is a very dangerous habit and not starting to smoke is the best approach that we all wish for the young people in our community," said Snyder.

Snyder says Montana is healthier compared to other states. The connection between obesity and cancer will be a problem going forward, but not so much in Missoula.

"We have the best patients here. People in Missoula are healthy. They're motivated, they're educated," said Snyder.

The American Cancer Society says improved survival rates are a reason to celebrate but not to stop.  Cancer is still responsible for one in four deaths in the United States.

The report also shows that cancer death rates decreased by 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.4 percent in women over the same 5-year period.

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