More people are surviving cancer than ever before, according to a new report

According to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research, more people in the US are surviving with cancer and living longer than ever before, although it is estimated that nearly 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022 alone. The report, released Wednesday, provides statistics on cancer incidence and mortality, new therapies 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 percent of the US population, were living with a cancer diagnosis; this year it is over 18 million or 5.4 percent of the population. The increase may seem alarming at first glance, but it is actually a good sign: Diagnostics have improved and can now detect more cancer cases earlier. The overall incidence of cancer (the number of new cases diagnosed each year) has actually decreased over the past 50 years. With millions more Americans living with cancer today, it also means patients are now living longer, in part because of treatments like immunotherapies, targeted therapies like antibody-drug conjugates, and existing cancer drugs being repurposed for cancers they weren’t originally intended for were developed treat.

These advances have helped across the board, but some patient populations remain disproportionately affected by different types of cancer. For example, non-whites are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer as non-Hispanic whites, and mortality rates from lung cancer are 34 percent higher among rural dwellers than urban dwellers. According to the report, access to health care, structural inequalities such as housing discrimination, and proximity to carcinogenic pollution all contribute to these disparities. According to a study cited in the report, members of racial and ethnic minorities are 61 percent more likely than whites to live in a county with unhealthy air pollution.

While cancer rates have stabilized in recent years, rates of new pancreatic, kidney and uterine cancers are also increasing. Advances in the treatment of lung, colon, breast, prostate and some skin cancers have led to a reduction in age-adjusted mortality rates.

Certain types of cancer remain highly deadly. “The relative five-year survival rates of almost 91 percent for women with breast cancer and 97 percent for men with prostate cancer are in stark contrast to the relative five-year survival rates of 21 percent for people with liver cancer and less than 12 percent for people with pancreatic cancer “, says the report.

Still, new diagnostics and treatments are coming to the clinic for a variety of cancers, especially advanced forms that are no longer responsive to first-line chemotherapy and surgical options. Between August 2021 and the end of July 2022, eight new cancer 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 more types of cancer, such as Brukinsa for certain types of lymphoma (originally approved to treat another rare form of blood cancer) and Xalkori for a type of inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor (expanding its use to include lymphoma and some types of lung cancer). Some others, like the immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdualag for advanced melanoma, consist of a combination of two drugs — combination therapy is an emerging approach that will soon become a mainstay of cancer treatment, the report says.

Other major advances include the use of artificial intelligence to predict the success of cancer treatments and early detection of precancerous lesions. Still, a lack of representation in the training data for these computer algorithms can introduce biases that harm minorities. “Every effort must be made to reduce biases in technologies,” the report says.

One thing the report makes clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some significant setbacks in cancer care overall. Patients have been delayed in critical cancer screenings and diagnoses — in 2020, for example, 9.4 million Americans missed screenings for breast, colon and prostate cancer. At the same time, cancer patients remain at serious risk of severe consequences from SARS-CoV-2 infection. According to the report, research is underway to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 on these populations.

Looking ahead, the report identified several key areas where action can be taken by policymakers and clinicians to influence cancer rates and treatments. Improving diversity in clinical trials will go a long way toward identifying cancer drugs that are effective for all populations. More than 40 percent of all cancer cases are preventable because their causes include lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, poor diet and lack of exercise. And of course, tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of cancer, and the report continues to call for bans on menthol cigarettes and bans youth from using e-cigarettes. More people are surviving cancer than ever before, according to a new report


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