Millions of dollars are spent on cancer research every year. Cancer fundraisers are everywhere - walks, runs, bike rides, head shaving, growing moustaches and beards, even streaking through urban centres in our undies.
So it's only fair that one reader asked the question: Are we making any progress?
It's a good question to ask. If you read certain websites or social media posts, people might claim that we're no farther ahead than we were many years ago. It might be hard to know what to believe. Has the whole cancer research effort been for nothing?
Fortunately, we have some new U.S. data on the subject, reporting on survival rates for cancer patients going back several decades.
Let's boil it down to a simple question. Who would survive longer: a patient diagnosed with cancer back in 1975, or a patient diagnosed more recently?
For patients diagnosed with cancer in 1975, only 49% were still alive 5 years later. But for patients diagnosed in 2010, that number jumps up to 69%. Instead of more than half of patients dying before 5 years, it's now fewer than one-third.
Other countries, including Canada, have achieved similar numbers. Internationally, these improvements translate into millions of patients getting past the all-important 5-year mark. This 5-year statistic is meaningful, because in many cases, being alive 5 years after a cancer diagnosis means that a patient is cured.
Let's look at the numbers for some specific cancers:
You can look up other types of cancers in the original report, published by the American Cancer Society. All numbers are relative survivals, meaning they are adjusted for normal life expectancies.
In this table we can see some enormous improvements, and also some more modest ones. For some cancers, even though the numbers are better, the survivals remain low. This is particularly true for lung cancer (which kills more men and women than any other cancer), pancreas cancer, and stomach cancer. There is still much work to be done. But the good news is that improvements keep coming.
Why is it important to get this message out? With this information, patients can be confident that the system really is improving. People who donate their time and money can be reassured that their efforts are having an impact.
So if someone tells you that we're not making any progress against cancer, tell them it's not true. Share this page with others.
And continue to support cancer research: donate, ride, walk, or get your head shaved, even if it's only in your underwear!