More people than ever before are living longer and fuller lives after a cancer diagnosis, the American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) 12th annual Cancer Progress Report shows.
“The decline in the rate of cancer mortality has accelerated in recent years, as reflected by a 2.3 percent decrease in cancer deaths every year between 2016 and 2019,” says the press release about the report published Wednesday.
Emphasizing the unprecedented progress against cancer in the last decade, the comprehensive AACR Cancer Progress Report 2022 points out that “profound improvements in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment” are resulting in a steady decline in the U.S. cancer death rate.
“In fact, the number of children and adults living with a history of cancer exceeded a record 18 million in January 2022,” the report says, adding the number is expected to increase to 26 million by 2040.
The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. increased by more than 1 million in the past three years and by almost 15 million compared to 1971, when there were only 3 million U.S. cancer survivors.
“In the United States, the age-adjusted overall cancer death rate has been steadily declining since the 1990s, with the reductions between 1991 and 2019 translating into nearly 3.5 million cancer deaths avoided,” adds AACR.
Experts attribute the steady decline in the overall cancer death rate in the U.S. “mainly to the unprecedented progress against the four most common cancer types.”
“During the past three decades, age-adjusted death rates from lung, female breast, and colorectal cancers have decreased by 44, 42, and 53 percent, respectively,” the report says. For all cancers combined, the five-year overall survival rate has increased from 49% in the mid-1970s to nearly 70% from 2011 to 2017.
Investments and research propel progress
The report “chronicles how basic, translational, and clinical cancer research, and cancer-related population sciences, primarily supported by federal investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), remain vitally important to improving health and saving lives,” explains AACR.
AACR President Dr. Lisa Coussens partly credited the investment in research for both the treatments and for understanding the disease.
“Targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and other new therapeutic approaches being applied clinically all stem from fundamental discoveries in basic science. Investment in cancer science, as well as support for science education at all levels, is absolutely necessary,” she said.
The report underscored the introduction of eight new FDA-approved cancer drugs, the first new immune checkpoint inhibitor against a novel target in eight years, and the breakthroughs in molecularly targeted therapeutics and immunotherapies, such as “the first molecularly targeted therapeutic for treatment of cancer patients with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome” among the advances.
“In addition, the FDA expanded the use of 10 anticancer therapeutics and approved two new diagnostic imaging agents,” it says.
Disparity remains a key challenge, says AACR cancer progress report
However, “cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death in the U.S.” and remains “a significant threat to human health around the world,” the report stresses.
“In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that more than 600,000 lives will be lost to cancer in 2022,” the AACR cancer progress report underscored, pointing out that both cancer research and patient care still face several challenges, such as global crisis, restriction of reproductive rights, and cancer health disparities, above all.
Noting that “cancer health disparities are a pervasive public health problem,” AACR reports that the persisting issues of access for minorities or other medically underserved populations urgently call for more research and policy solutions” to ensure equitable progress against cancer.”
AACR calls for specific actions by Congress and lays out clear policy recommendations, including:
- Fully fund initiatives authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act, including President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot;
- Reauthorize the comprehensive Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act and provide at least $30 million for the Act’s implementation;
- Invest in vital cancer-related initiatives at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA; and
- Expand Medicaid to ensure that patients with cancer have equitable access to quality, affordable health care.