Overview on Cancer Survival Rates

Earlier in the year a collection of US government agencies and cancer groups released a report on cancer survival rates. I’ll spare you the analysis (although it’s worth reading), which you can find on the Oxford University Press website, but the good news is that survival rates are generally speaking trending up.

The good news

From the report: Overall cancer death rates from 2010 to 2014 decreased by 1.8% […] per year in men, by 1.4% […] per year in women, and by 1.6% […] per year in children.

Death rates decreased for 11 of the 16 most common cancer types in men and for 13 of the 18 most common cancer types in women, including lung, colorectal, female breast, and prostate, whereas death rates increased for liver (men and women), pancreas (men), brain (men), and uterine cancers. In contrast, overall incidence rates from 2009 to 2013 decreased by 2.3% […] per year in men but stabilized in women.

For several but not all cancer types, survival statistically significantly improved over time for both early and late-stage diseases. Between 1975 to 1977 and 2006 to 2012, for example, five-year relative survival for distant-stage disease statistically significantly increased from 18.7% […] to 33.6% […] for female breast cancer but not for liver cancer […].

Cancer death rates continue to decrease in the United States. However, progress in reducing death rates and improving survival is limited for several cancer types, underscoring the need for intensified efforts to discover new strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment and to apply proven preventive measures broadly and equitably.”


Overall, the results show improvement, however one area that’s still lagging behind is affordability of cancer care, particularly in the US.

“However, despite many reasons for optimism about the potential for research to accelerate the development of highly effective treatments, important challenges remain in the access and delivery of cancer care to enable all populations to benefit from treatment advances.

Some of the new cancer drugs cost $10,000 per month and are not affordable even by most insured patients because of the high out-of-pocket expenses, which are about 20% of the drug’s cost for Medicare-insured patients. The high cost of cancer treatment dubbed “financial toxicity” has been associated with reduced spending on groceries and clothing, skipped medications and physician appointments to save money, bankruptcy, and mortality.

It has been suggested that if measures are not taken to contain the escalating trend in treatment costs, cancer care in the United States could become less affordable and could impede the very goal of the Affordable Care Act, which is to make high-quality health care accessible to all.”


Axios did a good summary on the paper as well as next steps in the treatment of cancer, such as precision medicine or immunotherapy. Their point is true:

“For breast, prostate and a handful of other cancers, increased screening and early detection may have improved survival rates while masking only minor gains in longevity. Prevention is how we’ve made the most headway in decreasing actual death rates from cancer — with fewer people smoking, for example — and where more progress can be made.

“Some studies estimated that reduced tobacco use over the past four decades alone accounted for about 40% of the decrease in overall male cancer death rates from 1991 to 2003.”

Knowing from personal experience just how painful the treatment of cancer can be, putting significant emphasis on prevention – focusing on the things we can control, such as diet and other health related matters, social, environmental or work aspects – is paramount.

It’s a whole new topic, which I’ll get into more details in later posts.