Cancer in 2015

Cancer Progress Report 2015: Contents

In this section you will learn:

  • I​n the United States, overall cancer death rates are decreasing, and the number of survivors is increasing.

  • It is projected that more than 1.65 million people in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis, and more than 589,000 will die from the disease in 2015.

  • It is predicted that almost 2.4 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 24 million will be diagnosed globally in 2035.

  • Not all segments of the U.S. population benefit equally from advances against cancer.

  • The cost of cancer is immense, both in the United States and globally.

Progress Against Cancer: Powered by Research

Research improves survival and quality of life for millions of individuals around the world by catalyzing the development and implementation of new and better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, treat, and cure some of these diseases that we call cancer.

It takes many years of hard work by individuals from all segments of the biomedical research community to bring a new medical product from initial research discovery through approval by regulatory agencies and into the clinic (see sidebar on The Biomedical Research Community). Among the new medical products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between Aug. 1, 2014, and July 31, 2015, were nine new anticancer therapeutics, one new cancer prevention vaccine, and one new cancer screening test (see Table 1). During this period, the FDA also approved new uses for six previously approved anticancer therapeutics and one imaging agent.

Advances such as those listed in Table 1 help ensure that, year after year, overall U.S. cancer death rates continue to decrease (2) and that the number of people who survive their cancer continues to rise. In fact, in the United States alone, the percentage of the population living with, through, or beyond a cancer diagnosis has more than tripled since 1971 (3-5).

The significant progress that has been and continues to be made against cancer is the result of investments from governments, philanthropic individuals and organizations, and the private sector the world over. In the United States, federal investments in biomedical research, cancer research, and the FDA are of particular importance. The majority of U.S. federal investments in biomedical research are administered through the 27 component institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest of which is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (see sidebar on The National Institutes of Health by the Numbers​). Continued progress against cancer requires robust, sustained, and predictable growth in funding of lifesaving biomedical research from all sources.

Cancer: An Ongoing Challenge

There has been tremendous progress against cancer—for example, the U.S. five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined increased from 49 percent in the mid-1970s to 68 percent in 2010 (6). In spite of this progress, this collection of diseases continues to exert a devastating toll on the global population. In fact, it is predicted that about 8.9 million people worldwide will die from some form of cancer in 2015 (7), with 589,480 of these individuals living in the United States (6) (see Table 2).

One of the reasons that cancer continues to be an enormous public health challenge is that advances have not been uniform for all types of cancer (see Table 3). For example, although death rates for most types of cancer have been declining in the United States since the early 1990s, those for adults diagnosed with liver or pancreatic cancer rose 2.5 percent and 0.3 percent per year, respectively, from 2007 to 2011 (6). Overall relative five-year relative survival rates for U.S. adults with these two types of cancer are also very low, at 17 percent for liver cancer and 7 percent for pancreatic cancer, in stark contrast to the overall relative five-year relative survival rates for women with invasive breast cancer and men with prostate cancer, which are 89 percent and almost 100 percent, respectively (6).

Another reason that cancer continues to be a challenge is that advances have not been uniform for all patients with a given type of cancer. Five-year relative survival rates vary not only with stage at diagnosis, but also among different segments of the population (see sidebar on Cancer Health Disparities in the United States).

The reality is that cancer will continue to pose challenges for researchers, clinicians, and patients in the coming decades unless more effective strategies for cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment are developed. Given that cancer is primarily a disease of aging (12), and that the portion of the U.S. population age 65 and older is expected to double in size by 2060 (13), it is anticipated that the number of new cancer cases diagnosed each year in the United States will increase dramatically (7). In fact, it is estimated that in 2035, there will be almost 2.4 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Also contributing to the projected increase are the continued smoking of cigarettes by 18 percent of U.S. adults (14) and high rates of obesity and physical inactivity, both of which are linked to an increased risk for several types of cancer (15, 16).

A rise in the number of U.S. cancer cases will lead directly to an increase in the number of cancer deaths, and in the near future cancer is expected to overtake heart disease as the country’s leading cause of death (17).

These challenges are not unique to the United States; they are also global problems (see sidebar on Cancer: A Global Challenge​). Thus, it is imperative that the global biomedical research community collaborates to address cancer incidence and mortality, and spur continued advances against cancer.

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Cancer: A Costly Disease. Research: A Vital Investment

Cancer exerts an immense global toll not only through the number of lives it affects each year, but also as a result of its substantial economic impact. It is estimated that the 13.3 million cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide in 2010 cost $290 billion in that year alone (18) (see Figure 1​). With the number of cancer cases projected to rise dramatically in the next few decades, so too will the costs. In fact, it is estimated that the 21.5 million new cases of cancer projected to be diagnosed in 2030 will cost $458 billion (18).

In the United States alone, it is estimated that the direct medical costs of cancer care in 2010 were nearly $125 billion, and that these costs will likely rise to $156 billion in 2020 (19). These costs stand in stark contrast to the NIH budget for fiscal year 2015, which is $30.3 billion.

Given the increasing economic and personal burden of cancer, it is clear that more research is required if we are to continue to make new advances against cancer. In the United States, most biomedical research, as well as the federal regulatory agency that assures the safety and efficacy of advances—the FDA—is supported by funds from the federal government. Therefore, it is imperative that Congress and the administration increase investments in the federal agencies that are vital for fueling progress against cancer, in particular the NIH, NCI, and FDA.

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Cancer Progress Report 2015 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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