Cancer Survival Rates Improve Over Last 20 Years

More people are surviving cancer now than they were 20 years ago, according to new research published in JAMA Oncology.

Dr. Wei Zheng of Vanderbilt University in Nashville authored a study analyzing data from a national sample of more than one million men and women who were diagnosed with cancer of the breast, colon or rectum, prostate, lung, liver, pancreas or ovary between 1990 and 2010. Study participants were part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program.

The results showed that participants in the 50 to 64 age group who were diagnosed with cancer between 2005 and 2009 had significantly higher survival rates, compared to patients diagnosed between 1990 and 1994. Five-year survival rates rose by 43 percent for colorectal cancer, 52 percent for breast cancer, 39 percent for liver cancer and 68 percent for prostate cancer among patients diagnosed between 2005 and 2009.

“Pretty much all populations improved their cancer survival over time,” said Zheng. However, not all improvements were quite as significant.

The survival rate for ovarian cancer only slightly increased among white women, and the survival rates among black women actually worsened.

Improvements were also less significant among participants in the 75 to 85 age group. Breast and colorectal cancer rates only improved by 12 percent, liver cancer by 24 percent and prostate cancer by 35 percent. Similar but smaller improvements were seen in lung and pancreatic cancers.

Researchers credit the improved survival rates to advancements in screenings, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted treatments. However, further research is needed to improve survival rates among racial minorities and the elderly.

“In general our study shows different segments benefit differently from recent advances in oncology,” Zheng said. “We need to find out the reason.”

Researchers suggest that the lower survival rates in the elderly may be due to the fact that doctors are reluctant to prescribe more aggressive treatments, which can be risky in older patients. Racial minorities and the elderly are also less likely to be included in trials of new cancer treatments, which could further explain the disparity in survival rates (Source: Reuters).