A World Free from Cancers Is Possible

Medical innovation is increasing cancer survival rates, but to realize a world free from cancers, we need continued progress and collaboration.

Can you imagine a time when the word “cancer” isn’t feared? In this world, people consider it a manageable, chronic condition rather than a life-threatening disease. Well, according to experts at a recent forum on cancer research, we might be getting closer to making this a reality than you think.

“It’s realistic to think we will have a world free from the impact of cancer,” said Amy Abernethy, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at Duke Medicine in North Carolina and one of the speakers at the “World Free from Cancer: A Road Paved with Medical Innovation” forum hosted by Research!America and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network earlier this year.

Medical innovation has already made significant progress against cancer. Today, the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers is 68 percent, up from 49 percent in the 1970s. Over the next decade, the number of people who have survived five or more years after cancer diagnosis is expected to increase by 37 percent to over 11.9 million in the United States, according to a report published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

We need to continue the momentum we have started and work together to change the course of human health for patients, health care, our economy and future generations.

“We’re seeing people being periodically treated and living year after year with advanced disease, with cancers that have spread to the lung, liver, brain or bone,” Dr. Michael Fisch, director of the general oncology program at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said in an interview with the New York Times. “In 1997, we wouldn’t have guessed this would be possible.”

The changing tide of cancer survival is already evident in multiple myeloma. Since the 1990s, myeloma survival time has increased by 300 percent, jumping from an average survival time of 2.5 years in 1997 to over 10 years by 2012. In the United States alone, survivorship went up by 73 percent in the first decade of this century.

Despite these advances, cases and deaths continue to rise globally. Over 14.1 million cancer cases worldwide were reported in 2012, up 11 percent from 12.7 million in 2008, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The World Cancer Research Fund International estimates that this number could increase to 24 million by 2035. With statistics likes these, it’s understandable why so many people are afraid of cancer, and sometimes feel hopeless upon diagnosis.

But the experts at the “World Free from Cancer” forum believe that a world free from cancers is not only possible but also obtainable. Innovative treatments can transform cancer into a controllable health condition such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. So while patients might not actually be cured of the disease, they may still be able to continue living full lives with the right treatments.

To get there, we need continued innovation and collaboration from patients, advocates, healthcare providers, academia, other innovators, payers, policymakers and regulators. Public-private partnerships provide an option to help researchers share resources and data in a collaborative manner. In addition, by simplifying the accelerated approval pathway for new therapies, patients could get access to new, effective medicines sooner.

Creating partnerships within the ecosystem of innovation is essential for moving forward in cancer research. “We’re starting to realize that working together counts,” said Dr. Abernethy.

“We need to continue the momentum we have started and work together to change the course of human health for patients, health care, our economy and future generations,” said Robert Hariri, chairman, founder and chief scientific officer of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics and speaker at the “World Free from Cancer” forum.