More people in the U.S. are surviving with cancer and living longer than ever before, even if it’s estimated that nearly 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer by 2022 alone, according to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research. The report, released Wednesday, includes statistics on cancer incidence and death, 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 diagnosis of cancer; this year, that’s more than 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 may catch more cancer cases earlier these days. In fact, the overall incidence of cancer (the number of new cases diagnosed each year) has decreased over the past 50 years. The fact that millions of Americans are living with cancer today also means that patients are now living longer, in part as a result of treatments such as immunotherapy, targeted therapies such as antibody-drug conjugates, and existing cancer drugs that are reused to treat cancers they were not originally designed to treat.
These advances have helped across the board, but some patient populations remain disproportionately affected by various cancers. For example, non-whites are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer as non-Hispanic white populations, and lung cancer death rates are 34 percent higher among rural residents compared to urban residents. Access to health care, structural inequalities such as housing discrimination, and proximity to cancer-causing pollution all contribute to these inequalities, according to the report. According to research cited in the report, people from racial and ethnic minorities are 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
In addition, while cancer rates have stabilized in recent years, the 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 a reduction in age-related death rates.
Certain cancers remain very deadly. The five-year relative survival rates of nearly 91 percent for women with breast cancer and 97 percent for men with prostate cancer are in stark contrast to the overall five-year relative survival rates of 21 percent for those with liver cancer and less than 12 percent for those with pancreatic cancer. the report.
Still, new diagnostics and treatments are coming to the clinic for a wide variety of cancers, especially advanced forms that no longer respond to first-line chemotherapy and 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 multiple myeloma therapy. The use of 10 other previously approved treatments was expanded to include additional cancer types, such as Brukinsa for certain types of lymphoma (it was initially approved to treat another rare form of blood cancer) and Xalkori for a type of inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor (expanding its use). outside lymphoma and some lung cancers). Some others, such as the immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdualag for advanced melanoma, consist of a two-drug combination — combination therapy, according to the report, is an emerging approach that will soon become a mainstay of cancer treatment.
Other major advances include the use of artificial intelligence to predict the success of cancer treatments and early diagnosis of precancerous lesions. Still, a lack of representation in the training data for these computer algorithms can lead to biases that harm minorities. “Every effort must be made to reduce bias in technologies,” the report reads.
One thing the report does make clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some significant setbacks in cancer care. Patients have delayed critical cancer screenings and diagnoses — 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 serious consequences from SARS-CoV-2 infection. According to the report, research is underway to examine the long-term effects of COVID-19 on these populations.
Looking to the future, the report identified several key areas for policymakers and clinicians to respond to to influence cancer rates and treatments. Improving diversity in clinical trials will go a long way in identifying cancer drugs that will be effective for all populations. More than 40 percent of all cancers can be prevented because the causes are 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 push for a ban on menthol cigarettes and banning young people from using e-cigarettes.