Health & Wellness

Cancer Survivor Numbers Triple From 40 Years Ago: Report

from – Bloomberg News – by Kelly Gilblom

About 1 in 22 Americans is a cancer survivor, triple the percentage seen 40 years ago, according to a report that suggests science may be slowly catching up with the deadly disease.

About 14.5 million people in the U.S. have outlasted cancer or lived with a malignancy for more than five years, according to a report today by the American Association for Cancer Research. The progress reflects the use of new scientific tools that have allowed researchers to explore the genetic basis of cancer and target the molecular triggers that set it off or allow it to flourish.

Targeted cancer drugs approved between 1998 and 2001, including Roche Holding AG (ROG)’s Herceptin for breast cancer and Novartis AG (NOVN)’s Gleevec for leukemia, helped ignite the genomic strategy that continues to pay dividends today, the report said. Since Aug. 1 of last year, regulators have cleared five new targeted treatments for cancer.

“There have been a mixture of successes and not-so-much successes, but the number of successes are growing rapidly when you look at all the new FDA-approved therapies,” Jeffrey Engelman, an oncologist and spokesman for the cancer organization said. “It’s a rather exciting time.”

Increasingly, patients suffering from cancers such as leukemia are being splintered into smaller groups based on the specific genetics of their malignancies, rather than where the disease occurs. That has allowed researchers to pinpoint specific genetic mutations with new drugs, such as Spectrum Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s Beleodaq for lymphoma, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July.

Side Effects

Along with focusing on specific genetic mutations, the newest medications also lessen side effects such as nausea and fatigue, said Ken Anderson, a physician and spokesman for the American Association for Cancer Research.

“These new medicines offer the opportunity for unprecedented extent and frequency of responses on the one hand and a very favorable side effect profile on the other,” Anderson said in a telephone interview.

About 1.6 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed this year with cancer, a disease that cost the country $216.6 billion in 2009 in direct spending and lost wages, according to the cancer group’s report.

Other new types of cancer treatments are now focusing on the immune system, to help protect the body from the growth of cancer cells. This month, for instance, the FDA approved Merck & Co. (MRK:US)’s immunotherapy Keytruda, for melanoma.

‘Lot of Companies’

“There are a lot of companies, there are a lot of people on the academic side as well as on the industry side working very aggressively and what we’re seeing is the number of new drugs coming to market is just increasing,” said David Mauro, a physician and researcher at Merck, in a telephone interview.

Keytruda is for patients that have tried Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY:US)’s Yervoy, an immunotherapy that works differently than Merck’s drug.

Rich Murphy is a married father of three children from Marshfield, Massachusetts. He thought he was suffering from allergies when his doctor found a golf-ball size tumor in his nose in July 2008. Surgeons removed the lump and he was cancer-free for a year until a scan showed the cancer had spread to his spine and midsection.

He enrolled in a clinical trial, taking Yervoy for free, and his tumors shrunk 20 percent. When the cancer grew back, his doctor took him off the medication. He was placed in another clinical trial of Merck’s Keytruda, which was then known as MK-3475.

His tumors shrank, he said in a telephone interview, and now have disappeared.

‘Hope for People’

“It’s been an amazing two years,” Murphy said. “In terms of people who are suffering, people who are at the end of line without any hope; there is hope. These clinical trials are hope for people who have no hope.”

While the new generation of drugs has increased survival chances, many people still do not have specific treatments for their cancer. Further, some cancers grow resistant to standard therapies during treatment, meaning patients can go into remission or see tumors shrink and return, and then must be treated again.

“The goal is not to play this cat and mouse game,” Engelman said. “If we understand enough, we’ll be able to develop combinations of different agents up front.”

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Alan Bates MD
7 years ago

I question the qualifications of some who posted comments to this article. As a recently retired doctor, I have seen every cancer imaginable, gradual development of new treatments which target the tumor and / or cancer cells especially via radiotracers and antibodies; an FDA which is antiquated and obstructive; big pharma which is money-oriented; and last but certainly not least a boatload of internet hype from quacks who are not qualified to practice in our country and oftentimes in other countries except third world nations where quackery can flourish. Anytime one reads about the ‘one cure for all diseases’, be careful not to drink that Kool-aide because it is usually junk science. Unfortunately too many Americans are not adequately educated in scientific method and biostatistics to allow them to properly interpret what they read. This is even hard for those of us who are educated in the field of medicine. The United States (at least prior to Obamacare) offers THE best most efficient healthcare system in the world bar none–not Canada or England as is so often claimed by those who have no idea what these socialized systems are like (ask Canadians why they come to America for care or the Brits who are not treated for prostate cancer). After you meet a few patients who made that trip to Italy or Germany or the Bahamas only to return with recurrence or progression of their disease can you understand that there are usually no magic bullets and a lot of false data floating around the internet. Better screening is a major reason that cancer death rates have diminished in America over the past several decades–but the flip side is that Americans are by far the most unhealthy population in the civilized world due to obesity, poor dietary habits, tobacco and alcohol use, lack of exercise and lack of adherence to screening guidelines. All the above are variables which must be taken into account when one examines the incidence of and cure rates of cancer or any other disease both within America or when comparing to other nations. None of my comments are meant to discount the role of nutrition and certain naturopathic remedies but merely a warning to be cognizant of charlatans and not so fast to throw proved treatments out the window.

Ivan Berry
7 years ago
Reply to  Alan Bates MD

And Dr. Bates, don’t forget that part of the U.S. cohort of unhealty types includes many of those that our medical profession kept alive who would likely have already died if in another country.

Pam the Nurse
7 years ago

I have researched cancer for the past 30 years. So on Friday the 13th last year, (2013) when told I had terminal breast cancer by Breast cancer Surgeon’s Assistant, I laughed in her face. Why? Because I watched my colleagues drop dead from: Surgery, Chemo, Radiation. I have a good Doctor (M.D.) who treats with food allergy testing first, took me off dairy/meats and put me on Organic fruits/vegetables and later added in Hemp Oil and a year later, I feel GREAT!
Except for twinges of pain where Breast Cancer Surgeon put in Metal Marker, after I told her not to do so, (She prescribed ice and surgery, when other M.D. prescribed Antibiotics.) Caveat Emptor! Buyer BEWARE! Much of Cancer treatment in USA is about money, not saving lives. In Germany for example the breast cancer CURE rate is:80% not REMISSION but CURE. There are M.D.’s who use the same meds here in USA, but the Feds go after them, so be careful my friends, and use your head when these Cancer Doc’s tell you that you will, “DIE SOON” without big 3 regimen. Baloney!

7 years ago
Reply to  Pam the Nurse

Thank you, Pam and Patty. The truth is there have been remarkable breakthroughs in cancer research that have simply been shut down. I, too, believe it is all about money where the FDA and top dogs in health care are concerned. It is inconceivable to me that we, living in the most blessed country on earth, are still battling cancer. Furthermore, I am told that the Ebola virus, a quicker killer, has been treated successfully here in the US in just the past recent months. Our slow success at beating cancer makes me very suspect.

7 years ago

You only have to follow the money. Image the millions that are raised for cancer research and the salaries that are paid from that. What about the really expensive drugs and treatments used to treat cancer? How much money would be raised or earned if you can cure or prevent cancer with good diet or vitamins, neither of which can be patented?
We also have taken price completion out of medicine because so many people have insurance and don’t shop for the best price on their health care keeping completion out and prices ever escalating. Why stop the gravy train with a possible cheap easy cure, why even look for it?
We need a little more completion in pricing and more altruism in research.

7 years ago

I’m very disappointed with this article. We don’t need more hype about drugs to feed the cancer industry, we need more integrative approaches to implement the natural remedies that strengthen the immune system with attention paid to the environmental causes that hindered the immune system in the first place. Current methods do not offer individualized investigations into cause…it’s Russian Roulette in a one-size-fits-all approach.

My doctors will only offer “standard” radiation and chemotherapy which would have devastating results, when there are evidence-based modalities that strengthen (rather than hinder) the immune system, are nontoxic and do not leave horrible burns. My insurance won’t pay for these treatments, but they will pay for my hospice care. Something is very wrong with this logic.

I would like to see AMAC report on the latest research in these areas to give members options when old school approaches won’t work for them. Perhaps when enough of us start a new trend that includes advocacy for good customer service in the “health” care system, we will be able to read about efforts to cure people with whatever works rather than efforts to develop more drugs and hope that they work.

Kenneth Eaton
7 years ago

I hope you will not publish any more article on health till you get the facts straight. The survival rate of cancer is 5 years and they say you are cured. If it returns, it is considered a new cancer. Not a word on prevention through proper eating [skip the meat and dairy in particular] and exercise.

The recommended diet by the medical profession is at best, one that will slow cancer growth.

And why is it that over 70% of all oncologists would not use the poisons called CHEMO on themselves?. Hint- it is nearly worthless.

7 years ago
Reply to  Kenneth Eaton

Very good point, Kenneth. I’m on board with the idea that the body can rid cancer (or control it) with the right nutrients and lifestyle changes. If ever afflicted, myself, I plan to ask my doctor what she would do if I were her . . . or her daughter.

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