The Status of Cancer

Cancer Progress Report 2011: Contents

Today we know that cancer, which is in fact not one disease but more than 200 different diseases, is much more complex than what could have been imagined in 1971 when the United States Congress passed the National Cancer Act. Fortunately, investments in cancer and biomedical research, in particular those supported during the past four decades by public funds through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), have accelerated the pace of discovery and the development of new and better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer in all age groups. The results of these investments are cures for some patients with certain types of cancer and higher quality, longer lives for those patients whose cancers we cannot yet prevent or control.  

Between 1990 and 2007, death rates in the U.S. for all cancers combined decreased by 22% for men and 14% for women, resulting in 898,000 fewer deaths from the disease during this time period (ACS, Facts & Figures, 2011). Today, more than 68% of adults are living 5 or more years after initial diagnosis, up from 50% in 1975; and the 5-year survival rate for all childhood cancers combined is 80% vs. 52% in 1975 (SEER, NCI). As a result of our Nation’s investments in cancer and biomedical research, approximately 12 million cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. today, and 15% of these cancer survivors were diagnosed 20 or more years ago.

Our unprecedented progress against cancer is the result of extraordinary advances in research, combined with both visionary public health policy and the passionate work of survivor and patient advocates. For example, the translation of fundamental discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic has produced over 30 FDA-approved molecularly targeted drugs that are less toxic and more effective in treating a number of cancers. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General’s historic 1964 Report on Smoking and Health concluded that scientific evidence proved a causal relationship between smoking and cancer, putting into motion the development of a policy framework that has resulted in a reduction in the number of smokers in the U.S. from 42% of the population in 1965 to 20% today. This has saved millions of lives that would otherwise have been lost not only to lung cancer, but also to the 17 other types of cancer directly related to tobacco use.

Because of the enormous complexity of cancer, progress against certain cancers has been difficult. Pancreatic, brain, and lung cancers still represent major killers–but new insights into their function and control at the molecular level are informing the development of a new generation of specific diagnostic and treatment strategies that hold promise for increased clinical efficacy and survival.

Unfortunately, despite significant advances in cancer research that have resulted in improvements in survival for many cancers, more than 570,000 people will die each year from the disease, which is more than 1 person every minute, every day. In fact, 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed every year with cancer, and approximately 1 out of every 3 women and 1 out of every 2 men will develop cancer in their lifetimes. It is no wonder that a cancer diagnosis remains the worst fear of Americans as determined by an AACR survey conducted in 2000. Since that time, an poll has confirmed this finding among older adults, and in 2010 a Cancer Research UK poll showed that 20% of Europeans of all ages consider cancer their biggest fear.

Further, cancer is a looming health care crisis. Although cancer is diagnosed in all age groups, approximately half of all cancers occur in the 13% of the population over the age of 65. This group will comprise 20% of the population by the year 2030 and will account for more than 70% of all cancer diagnoses. Thus, because of this fact alone, the Nation’s cancer burden is expected to rise steeply in the next 20 years. Also, cancer represents a huge economic burden, amounting to total costs of $263.8 billion in the U.S. alone in 2010. It is therefore urgent that we continue to research and develop successful preventive interventions and treatments.

There is no doubt that the conquest of cancer represents a significant challenge for the international community of cancer researchers. Cancer rates are on the rise worldwide, with cancer expected to claim the lives of 17 million people by 2030 and predicted to become the No. 1 killer worldwide in the very near future. Moreover, of all causes of death worldwide, cancer has the greatest economic impact from premature death and disability. This economic toll is 20% higher than from any other major disease, at $895 billion annually, not including the direct costs of treating cancer. Collaborations between U.S. and international cancer researchers are essential to share knowledge, reduce the cancer burden, and improve global health.

In addition to reducing the devastating human toll of cancer, our Nation’s commitment to cancer and biomedical research strengthens our economy, fortifies America’s competitive standing in the world in science and technology, and maximizes opportunities for continued major advances against cancer by recruiting, training, and retaining an optimal biomedical research workforce. In fact, according to a 2008 study by Families USA, each dollar of NIH funding generates more than 2 times as much in state economic output through the “multiplier effect” in the communities where the research is conducted.

Today, more than any time in our history, cancer researchers are maximizing the impact of the fundamental discoveries made over the past 40 years and are translating them into improved patient care. This report captures many of the remarkable discoveries that are the direct result of the dedicated work of thousands of researchers working around the country and the world who are poised to exploit the current scientific momentum to create more effective interventions and save more lives from cancer.

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Cancer Progress Report 2011 Contents

American Association for Cancer Research Foundation
The AACR Cancer Progress Report is published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). The mission of the AACR is to prevent and cure cancer through research, education, communication, and collaboration.

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