New Therapies, More Survivors

Today there are more cancer survivors than ever before because of medical innovation.

Cancer survivor Terry Barter enjoys driving his brand new Corvette. Source: Terry Barter

Cancer survivor Terry Barter enjoys driving his brand new Corvette. Source: Terry Barter

After Terry Barter was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001, he decided to check off some items on his bucket list while he was still feeling well enough to fulfill them. So he took a vacation to Italy with his wife and bought a Corvette. But when he realized that he would be around for longer than expected, he had to sell his Corvette to pay for his sons’ college tuitions.

Today Terry continues to enjoy moments with his 10 grandchildren—seven of whom were born after his diagnosis—and touring Nova Scotia on his Harley. He has continued working throughout his 13 years of treatment. “I lead a pretty close to normal life, I would have to say. It has not slowed me down,” Terry said.

More cancer survivors like Terry are living longer, better lives than ever before, and that’s in large part because of advances in medical innovation.

New cancer medications were the largest driver of the decline of cancer mortality between 2000 and 2009.

Between 1990 and 2011, the number of cancer survivors more than doubled, from 6.5 million to 13.8 million in the United States. And that number is expected to grow to over 18 million by 2022. People diagnosed with cancer today now have a 68 percent chance of living five years or longer. That’s up significantly from 1977, when chances were just 49 percent.

According to a 2013 study, new cancer medications drove nearly 60 percent of the decline of cancer mortality between 2000 and 2009.

“The cancer sites that experienced the most chemotherapy innovation had the largest declines in cancer mortality rates,” Frank Lichtenberg, professor of business at Columbia University Graduate School of Business and author of the study, said.

According to Lichtenberg’s analysis, new therapies contributed 8.0 percent of the overall 13.8 percent decline in cancer mortality. Meanwhile, diagnostic advances made up 4.0 percent, and a reduction in reported cancer cases made up another 1.2 percent.

Medical innovation is also helping cancer patients live longer. Between 1995 and 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 96 new cancer therapies. During that same time period, the five-year survival rate for all cancers increased 11 percent.

Cancer Drug Approvals & 5-Year Survival Rates

The goal is 18 million cancer survivors by 2022. But we can do better than that.

By continuing to invest in medical innovation, we can surpass those estimates. That investment requires all those involved in our health care system to work together to support access to new cancer therapies that will improve survival rates and continue to reduce cancer mortality at an accelerated rate.

Of course, those are just statistics. What’s really meaningful are the moments that cancer survivors are creating. Barter is looking forward to upcoming milestones—such as his son’s marriage next year—and has even saved enough to buy a Corvette once again. He is focused on keeping every day in perspective. “They’re all wonderful.”