More people are surviving cancer than ever before, a new report shows
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More people in the U.S. are surviving cancer and living longer than ever before, even as nearly 2 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2022 alone, according to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research. The report was released Wednesday and presents statistics on cancer incidence and mortality, new therapies that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer care and research.
In 1971, 3 million Americans, or 1.4% of the US population, were living with a diagnosis of cancer; this year, that number is over 18 million, or 5.4 percent of the population. The increase may seem alarming at first, but it’s actually a good sign: diagnostics have improved and are able to catch more cases of cancer earlier these days. The overall incidence of cancer (the number of new cases diagnosed per year) has actually decreased over the past 50 years. The fact that millions more Americans are living with cancer today also means that patients are now living longer, in part because of treatments including immunotherapy, targeted therapies such as antibody-drug conjugates, and existing anticancer drugs repurposed for cancers for which they do not have were originally conceived. treat.
These advances have helped across the board, but some patient populations remain disproportionately affected by different cancers. For example, non-whites are diagnosed with gastric cancer at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white populations, and lung cancer death rates are 34% higher among rural residents compared to the city. Access to healthcare, structural inequities such as housing discrimination and proximity to cancer-causing pollution all contribute to these disparities, according to the report. Individuals from racial and ethnic minorities are 61 percent more likely than whites to live in a county with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to research cited in the report.
In addition, while cancer rates have stabilized in recent years, rates of new pancreatic, kidney, and uterine cancers are increasing. Advances in the treatment of lung, colorectal, breast, prostate, and some skin cancers have led to reductions in age-adjusted death rates.
Certain forms of cancer remain extremely deadly. “The overall five-year relative survival rate of nearly 91% for women with breast cancer and 97% for men with prostate cancer contrasts sharply with the five-year overall relative survival rates of 21% for people with liver cancer and more less than 12 percent for those with pancreatic cancer,” the report said.
However, new diagnostics and treatments are coming to the clinic for a wide range of cancers, especially advanced forms that no longer respond to chemotherapy and first-line surgical options. Between August 2021 and the end of July 2022, eight new anticancer therapies were approved by the FDA; including Welireg, a cell signaling inhibitor for tumors associated with von Hippel-Lindau disease; and CARVYKTI, an immunotherapy drug for patients who have received four or more lines of therapy for multiple myeloma. The use of 10 other previously approved treatments has been expanded to include other types of cancer, such as Brukinsa for certain types of lymphoma (it was originally approved to treat another rare form of blood cancer) and Xalkori for a type of tumor inflammatory myofibroblastic (in expansion). its use beyond lymphoma and some lung cancers). Some others, such as the immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdualag for advanced melanoma, consist of a combination of two drugs — combination therapy, according to the report, is an emerging approach that will soon become a cemented mainstay of cancer treatment.
Other big advances include using artificial intelligence to predict the success of cancer treatment and to diagnose precancerous lesions early. However, a lack of representation in the training data for these computer algorithms can lead to biases that harm minorities. “Every effort should be made to reduce biases in technologies,” the report said.
One thing the report makes clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some significant failures in cancer care. Patients had critical cancer screenings and diagnoses delayed—in 2020, for example, 9.4 million Americans missed screenings for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. At the same time, cancer patients remained at serious risk of severe outcomes from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Research is ongoing to examine the long-term effects of COVID-19 on these populations, according to the report.
Looking ahead, the report identified several key areas that policymakers and clinicians can act on to impact cancer rates and treatments. Improving diversity in clinical trials will go a long way toward identifying cancer drugs that will be effective for all populations. More than 40 percent of all cancers are preventable because their causes include lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity. And of course, tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of cancer, and the report continues to urge a ban on menthol cigarettes and a ban on youth use of e-cigarettes.
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