Recent projections for the top cancer killers in 2030 confirmed some encouraging trends but also sounded a warning bell.
According to the projections, the overall cancer death rate and the number of deaths from major cancers, such as breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, are declining in the United States. But pancreatic and liver cancers will surpass these major cancers to become the second and third leading causes of cancer death, respectively.
So why are some cancers becoming less deadly, while others are steadily climbing to the top of the cancer killer list? There are several reasons.
Improved screening and treatment options for many cancer types have changed their incidence and death rates. Demographic shifts also have had a major effect, with increases in various minority populations that have disproportionately higher incidence rates and lower survival rates for some cancers .
In addition, research funding has played a key role. Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers are the most common cancer types in the United States and have received the most attention and funding from government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, advances in screening, prevention, and treatment of these cancers have improved their survival rates.
Not so with pancreatic and liver cancers, which are considered to be among the deadliest (or recalcitrant) cancers, with five-year relative survival rates well below 50 percent. Funding is very limited for earlier detection and effective treatment of the deadliest cancers, which include cancers of the ovary, brain, stomach, esophagus, lung, and myeloma.
To improve the future outlook for people with these cancers, several national nonprofit organizations have formed the Deadliest Cancers Coalition , focused on addressing policy issues related to the most deadly cancers. The Hepatitis B Foundation, with its dedicated liver cancer program, Liver Cancer Connect, is a Coalition member.
The Coalition helped pass the 2012 Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, which received broad bipartisan and bicameral support. The Act calls on the National Cancer Institute to develop strategies for earlier detection methods and better treatments for the deadliest cancers.
To keep up the momentum and intensify efforts to heighten awareness of the deadliest cancers, the Coalition recently organized a congressional briefing with the newly formed Congressional Caucus on the Deadliest Cancers, which is chaired by Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA).
The goal of the Coalition is to raise funds for comprehensive private research and advocate for dedicated federal research to develop early diagnostics and better treatments, and increase chances of survival.
A concerted effort by all stakeholders— policy makers, scientists, clinicians, and the public—can change the alarming recent predictions and improve the future outlook for people with the deadliest cancers. But research takes time and long-term commitment.
Which is why we need to act now.