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U.S. cancer report: Treatments advancing but half of deaths could be prevented

A new progress report on cancer in the United States is touting advances at keeping patients alive longer.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) took a deep dive into U.S. cancer statistics and decades worth of research advances dating back to 1990. They found there have been more than 1 million fewer cancer deaths among men and women since.

The annual report from the cancer association serves as an educational tool for patients, families, researchers and policy-makers, explained Dr. Kenneth Anderson, director of the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

He told it's also sounding the alarm to get people more aware of what they can do to reduce their cancer risk, and get legislators to secure more funds for research. This could not only save lives but financial costs as well.

"The sobering...side (of this report is), we are really responsible at this time to make this progress continue, and this will require generous support and prioritization that will pay off in life and economic productivity."

More than 1.6 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2013, according to the report, in addition to more than 580,000 deaths that are projected to occur this year.

Besides the toll a disease takes on patients and their families, cancer also takes a financial toll on society at large. The report estimated $201.5 billion was spent on cancer in 2008, including $77.4 billion in medical costs and $124 billion in lost productivity due to premature deaths.

A recent study from the Institute of Medicine, a group of physicians who advise the government on policy, showed that the U.S. was facing a cancer care crisis due to baby boomers reaching the age when tumors are more likely to occur. In addition, doctors may not be prescribing them optimal treatments.

The association's new report suggests that cancer research efforts toward better prevention, diagnosis and treatment is money well-spent to curb disease, death rates and health care costs.

Precision medicine: The future of medicine?

Advances in precision medicine, or specialized targeting of genetic mutations or cancer-causing genes, has helped usher in a new wave of treatments. The Food and Drug Administration approved 11 new cancer therapies in 2013, about half of which targeted specific cancer defects.

New uses for three previously-approved drugs, and three new imaging techniques were also approved.

Immunotherapies that allow the body to attack its own cancer are more advanced than ever, the report added, and are yielding "remarkable," long-lasting effects. New treatments also have worse side effects, giving patients improved quality of life, Anderson added. Such advancements in part have led to a rise in people surviving longer: More than 13.7 million U.S. survivors were alive on Jan. 1, 2012, the report noted.

"I think this report is a call action because in spite of all this progress....the funding sources for cancer have never been more threatened than they are right now," said Anderson, who is also an AACR spokesperson.


Investments already made by the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute have been paying off in lives saved, he added, with more living for normal durations and being there for family milestones.

However, despite all advances, more than 50 percent of the half million cancer deaths expected this year will be due to preventable causes like smoking, obesity, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity.


Obesity-related cancers, such as those of the kidney, esophagus, pancreas, colon and uterus have been on the rise as the nation battles an obesity epidemic, a Jan. 2013 U.S. cancer report from other organizations found.

Dr. Karen Basen-Engquist, director of MD Anderson's Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship in Houston, Texas, told in August that her research suggests exercise that can curb obesity, and the resulting changes in hormone and inflammation levels could curb cancer risk.

Exercise can also keep survivors healthier, she added.

"We're talking about doing exercise kind of at the level of a brisk walk," Basen-Engquist said at the time. "So, your heart rate goes up, you're breathing a little bit faster, but you're not doing an all-out run."

The authors called for more research and resources to understand how to best get this message across, and get people to change their lifestyles.

The complete AACR Cancer Progress Report 2013 can be accessed on the association's website.

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