By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Cancer death rates in the United States took their sharpest drop on record between 2016 and 2017. Fewer people are smoking, which is the leading cause of lung cancer, and new treatments are saving more lives.

Fred Powers first battled melanoma, then he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and thought it was a death sentence.

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“Absolutely, at the time because there was no treatments at that point,” Powers said.

He’s now in remission, thanks to a breakthrough in immunotherapy treatment.

“The tumors in my liver started to reduce,” Powers said. “My spleen started to look better.”

New research highlights treatment advances for cancers like melanoma and lung cancer are driving down the cancer death rate.

An American Cancer Society report shows a 29% drop since 1991. The death rate fell more than 2% from 2016 to 2017, which is the largest single-year drop ever reported.

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“The therapies for those metastatic diseases have become so much better than they were 25-30 years ago,” said Dr. Kim Margolin, an oncologist at City of Hope.

Long-term declines for lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer are behind the overall drop in cancer deaths, and while progress against lung cancer has been increasing in recent years, it’s slowing against the other three cancers.

Powers gets skin checks every month. He’s had five surgeries and receives monthly immunotherapy treatments.

“Everything could change at every moment and that’s why I have continuous gratitude every day,” Powers said.

Now, after everything he’s been through, he’s determined to live life to the fullest.

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More than 600,000 cancer deaths are expected in the U.S. this year alone. Cancer remains the second-leading cause of death after heart disease in both men and women nationally.

Stephanie Stahl