Hidden Signs of Progress Against Cancer

Millions of dollars are funneled into the war on cancer every year. Furthermore, cancer research has been a top category of medical research for decades. Yet, for all that time and money, many question whether or not we’ve made any sort of progress whatsoever.

Indeed, news publications are quick to point out that death rates related to cancer have remained relatively stable. However, experts point to several hidden factors that suggest cancer researchers have made considerable gains in cancer treatment.

Cancer is presently the second leading cause of deaths in America, right behind heart disease. Skeptics of the cancer research movement often point out that dramatic strides have been made in death rates related to heart disease. Why not are these same strides being seen in cancer death rates? Well, the sheer fact that people are more regularly beating heart disease could be one contributor.

As Harvard Associate Professor Deborah Schrag explains: ” “If heart disease goes down by 50% or 60%, people are living longer, and they will die of other things, and those other things often are cancer.”

Additionally, signs of improvement begin to manifest when looking at the short-term. The American Cancer Society notes that overall cancer rates have fallen since the early 1990s (when overall cancer mortalities peaked). This, they argue, shows that concerted cancer-fighting efforts have slowed and begun to reverse the previously ever-rising annual death rates associated with the disease.

Optimists also point to figures that show that sufferers are routinely dying at older ages than previous generations. So, while individuals may ultimately succumb to their illness, this indicates that cancer treatments are prolonging life considerably.

Numbers are also often skewed due to the aging U.S. population. Simply put, more senior citizens equals more cancer patients. This aging patient base often clouds out major advances seen in younger patients. For example, cancer deaths among individuals in their 40s dropped by 35 percent between the periods of 1925 and 1964.

If cancer death rates are weighted by age range, then the data reveals that cancer rates have been decreasing since the 1960s.

While measuring the actual success of cancer research over time is difficult, if not impossible, digging through the data ultimately reveals that significant victories have been won in the war on cancer. Still, the majority of cancer researchers will admit that they would have liked to see more pronounced improvements over the long-term.