For the second year in a row, The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports a record single-year decline in cancer death rates in the United States. Each year, ACS estimates the number of new cancer cases and deaths that will occur in the United States. For nearly 30 years, the trend towards fewer cancer deaths has been moving in a positive direction with fewer deaths year after year. In their latest report, Cancer Statistics 2021, data demonstrates cancer mortality decreased 2.4% from 2017 to 2018, surpassing the record single-year decline reported in the previous year. Overall, cancer death rates have fallen 31% since peaking in 1991. As a result of continued declines, the report also finds a total of 3.2 million deaths have been avoided over this period.
Reasons for the decline include improvement in cancer medicines, reduced smoking and earlier detection.
The largest contribution to this decline was seen in lung cancer, which is the most common cause of cancer death and an area that has seen tremendous advances in treatment. Continued declines in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) mortality contributed to almost half of the overall decline over the past 5 years and contributed greatly to the record drop reported this year. The authors note therapeutic advances in particular contributed to these dramatic declines. Last year, a New England Journal of Medicine study confirmed the critical role of new medicines in declining NSCLC rates, noting this decline “correlates with [U.S. FDA] approval of several targeted therapies for this cancer in recent years.”
While meaningful progress has been and continues to be made against cancer, it is still the second leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 21% of all deaths. It is estimated that more than 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2021 and more than 608,000 Americans will die from cancer this year alone. The report also highlights critical racial and socioeconomic disparities that persist across the country, underscoring that accelerating progress in the fight against cancer requires a focus and commitment to achieving health equity.
Worth noting, the demand for cancer prevention, screening and treatment services as well as the overall costs to care for the growing number of patients are projected to dramatically increase. Today, the direct medical costs of cancer care are estimated at $80.2 billion in the U.S. annually. And the indirect costs of lost productivity each year due to cancer-related mortality include $94.4 billion in lost earnings. With cancer incidence expected to increase, these costs underscore not only the need for new treatments to address substantial unmet medical needs, but for earlier diagnosis and treatment to head off these costs and lead to longer and healthier lives in the years ahead.
To continue this progress and deliver hope to those battling cancer, biopharmaceutical research companies are working to develop novel therapies that are safe and effective in treating different types of cancer.
While the latest ACS report highlights impressive progress toward reducing cancer mortality rates, progress is still very much needed to address unmet needs and persistent disparities. Biopharmaceutical researchers are committed to sustaining progress toward reducing cancer-related mortality. A robust pipeline of additional medicines and vaccines are in development targeting bladder cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, stomach cancer, childhood cancers and other solid tumors. Today, there are more than 1,300 medicines and vaccines currently in development to fight cancer.
Read more about the innovative cancer treatment options in development here.
Andrew Powaleny is Senior Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA and leads the organization's scientific communications. Before joining PhRMA in 2015, he worked in public affairs for a small firm in Washington, DC and served as Deputy Press Secretary for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Andrew came to Washington, D.C. via Connecticut with a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University where he majored in public policy and government. Andrew is active as a runner and volunteer with the DC Front Runners; most recently serving on its Board of Directors for three years as co-race director. He is also a member of the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and mentors students through his alumni association with The Fund for American Studies. Andrew is passionate about scientific innovation, especially for mental illness, and his heroes are the men and women of America’s biopharmaceutical research companies.