There is perhaps no scarier diagnosis than cancer.
Though I've never personally had cancer, I was my mother's caretaker when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2010. The eight-month treatment process she went through was grueling, and I was there with her every step of the way, never missing an appointment or treatment session. In short, I have a first-hand understanding of how draining a process it can be on a patient and her family, and you'll find me at the front of the line when it comes to cheering for a cure.
Cancer's shocking statistics
Unfortunately, cancer incidence is on the rise around the globe despite billions of dollars being thrown at cancer research on an annual basis. Today, we'll take a closer look at 15 incredible cancer statistics that paint a picture of where we've been and where we're headed with cancer research. Some of these statistics are downright shocking and speak to the need to find cures as soon as possible, while others demonstrate just how far we've come over the past couple of decades.
1. According to the American Cancer Society's "2014 Cancer Facts & Figures" report (link opens PDF), an estimated 585,720 people are expected to die from cancer in the United States this year. That's one person every 54 seconds.
2. The World Health Organization estimates that global cancer diagnoses will rise from 14 million to 22 million people per year over the next two decades.
3. Over their lifetimes, men have a 43.3% risk of developing cancer, while women have a 37.8% risk of developing cancer, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results database as of 2009 through 2011.
4. A majority of cancer diagnoses (77%) are made in people over the age of 55 based on American Cancer Society's "2014 Cancer Facts & Figures" report.
5. According to the World Health Organization's leading cause of death statistics from 2012, lung cancer was responsible for 2.9% of all global deaths, up from 2.2% in 2000.
6. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients has tripled over the past three decades, but still stands at only 6%, by far the lowest five-year survival rate of all major cancer types.
7. At least one-third of all cancers are preventable, per the World Health Organization. WHO cites tobacco as the cause of 22% of all cancer deaths each year, with physical inactivity, obesity, and alcohol use also factoring into its estimate.
8. According to the National Institutes of Health, as of 2009 the total direct and indirect costs of cancer were $216.6 billion for the year. This figure includes $86.6 billion in direct medical costs, as well as $130 billion in indirect mortality costs such as lost worker productivity.
As I said, these are scary statistics. It's clear that there's a lot of work left to be done educating the public about possible cancer risk factors and developing life-saving and quality-of-life-improving treatments.
Improvement, one step at a time
But there's also a bright side to these cancer statistics that I'd like to share with you as well.
9. Based on data from the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for all cancer types has jumped to 68% as of 2003 through 2009, compared to just 49% between 1975 and 1977.
10. The five-year survival rates for the two most commonly diagnosed cancers (prostate cancer and breast cancer) have surpassed 90%, per the American Cancer Society. For context, the five-year survival rate three decades ago for prostate cancer was just 68%, and 75% for breast cancer.
11. Cancer death rates have dropped in the U.S. for nine consecutive years according to the American Cancer Society.
12. There were 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. as of 2013, and that number is expected to swell to 18 million by 2022, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.
13. Lung cancer cases for all age groups declined by 2.6% per year for men and 1.1% per year for women between 2005 and 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report".
14. Death rates for all childhood and adolescent cancers have declined by an average of 2.1% per year from 1975 through 2010, resulting in a greater than 50% reduction in childhood and adolescent mortality related to cancer, per the American Cancer Society.
15. The National Cancer Institute has received an average of $4.9 billion in annual funding over the past six years from the U.S. government.
Winning the war one battle at a time
Cancer statistics are shocking regardless of whether they speak of good or bad news, but the fact is that cancer research is slowly bringing us toward cures for various types of cancers. While a cure for some cancer types is much farther off than we'd like, I can definitively say we're witnessing progress by leaps and bounds in certain areas.
Take Roche's (NASDAQOTH:RHHBY) cancer drug Perjeta, which was approved in 2012 as a treatment for metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer in combination with Herceptin and docetaxel, as a great example. Just two weeks ago Roche released the final data from its CLEOPATRA phase 3 study, which showed that Perjeta-treated patients survived an additional 15.7 months (56.5 months) on average compared to those who didn't receive Perjeta (40.8 months). That's an improvement of nearly one-and-one-third years for an advanced stage of cancer, and the longest median overall survival period found in a clinical trial for an advanced stage of breast cancer.
Another example of pharmaceutical triumph that's making a genuine difference in people's lives is Pharmacyclics' (UNKNOWN:PCYC.DL) and Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) blood cancer drug Imbruvica, which is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for mantle cell lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It truly has been a superstar for the CLL indication, generating a 78% reduction in risk of disease progression and resulting in a 57% decrease in risk of death. Imbruvica, which is being tested in a number of other cancer types, may yet have the potential to extend the lives of patients in other cancer types.
Clearly we're not going to eradicate cancer overnight, but these encouraging statistics, as well as the progress being made in treating a majority of cancer types, lends hope that a cure may someday be a reality. My hope, and the hope for everyone out there suffering with this terrible disease, is that we see this cure discovered during our lifetimes.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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