Waging (and largely winning) the war on cancer, one year at time

Waging (and largely winning) the war on cancer, one year at time

01.05.12 | By

Evidence of recent progress in our collective fight against cancer continued yesterday with the American Cancer Society's annual report, Cancer Statistics, 2012. According to ACS, between 1990/1991 and 2008, overall death rates from cancer fell by approximately 23 percent in men and 15 percent in women - meaning that more than a million deaths from cancer were prevented.

Between 2004 and 2008, cancer death rates dropped by 1.8 percent per year in men and 1.6 percent per year in women. Death rates continued to decline for all four major forms of cancer - lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.

As the report notes, there are many reasons for this progress - and they differ greatly by each specific cancer. Lifestyle changes (like those I've admittedly been lax at), better detection and screening, and new treatments - including medicines - all are key.

For our sector's part, the march goes on. As we previously highlighted in The Catalyst, seven new molecular entities for cancer were approved by FDA last year. This included new treatments (and in some cases companion genetic tests) for late-stage melanoma, late-stage lung cancer, lymphoma, thyroid cancer and metastatic breast cancer. Looking ahead, biopharmaceutical researchers are working on nearly 900 medicines and vaccines for a wide range of cancers, according to PhRMA's most recent Medicines in Development for Cancer report.

It's still a huge uphill climb. After all, ACS projects that 1,638,910 new cases of cancer and 577,190 deaths from cancer will occur in the U.S. in 2012. These remain terribly big numbers.

And the progress isn't universal. In an accompanying Cancer Facts & Figures 2012 document, ACS reports that incidence rates are increasing for several cancers, including pancreatic, liver, thyroid, kidney and skin.

For these particularly challenging types, myriad approaches again will be necessary to turn the tide, but new medicines will undoubtedly be key factors - if not, in many cases, the sole answer. Among medicines in development, 41 are for pancreatic cancer, 31 for liver, 65 for skin, 31 for kidney and eight for thyroid. That represents a lot of hope for future patients.

I urge you to check out the ACS materials (the Facts & Figures is a particularly interesting) and our own Medicines in Development report. They're not exactly beach reading for those already pining for another vacation, but they paint a comprehensive picture of our collective medical progress to date and the scope of the challenges ahead.

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