Cancer. Perhaps no other single word strikes more fear in the hearts of human beings.
As a doctor, I know from experience that when you use the word cancer to describe your patient’s condition, little else you say will be remembered. It’s like a ticking time bomb we’re all afraid will someday explode.
But today there is good news about cancer – if you live in the United States. The American Cancer Society has just released the latest cancer survival rates and the cancer mortality rate in the U.S. has plunged nearly 30% since its peak in 1991. The largest annual decline occurred in 2017 but the trend line continues.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board says the reasons for this decline are numerous. They include fewer Americans are smoking, which has reduced the incidence of lung cancer. More Americans are also being diagnosed with cancer at earlier stages thanks to better tests and screening, which increases the chances of survival.
Here are some heart-warming five year survival statistics:
- Prostate Cancer– 98%
- Melanoma– 92%
- Breast Cancer– 90%
Melanoma death rates for men declined by a stunning 7.6% annually between 2013 and 2017. The death rate for breast cancer declined by an average of 1.5% annually from 2008 to 2017.
Scientific breakthroughs have enabled doctors to harness a victim’s immune system to increased survival rates by multiples over traditional chemotherapy. This is especially helpful in cancers with low survival rates such as metastatic melanoma and lung cancer.
The Cost of Cancer Survival
But none of this comes without a cost. The drugs that have enabled these advances in cancer survival require tremendous investments by pharmaceutical companies and therefore aren’t cheap once approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet these drugs hold the key to cancer treatment success.
Socialized medicine systems such as the United Kingdom and Canada don’t allow for these expensive drugs and therefore these countries do not enjoy our cancer survival rates. The U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (a misnomer at best) has rejected immunotherapies because they are too expensive. Better healthcare comes at a price that socialized systems are not willing to pay.
As a result, these systems have lower cancer survival rates. The age-adjusted mortality rate is about 20% higher in the U.K. and 10% higher in Canada and France than in the U.S. Survival rates for hard -to-treat cancers are also higher in the U.S. than in most countries with nationalized health systems.
The British medical journal Lancet published last year that an individual diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2010 and 2014 had nearly twice the likelihood of surviving five years in the U.S. than in the U.K.
Here are some five-year survival comparisons:
- Brain Cancer
- U. S. – 36.5%
- France – 27.2%
- U. K. – 26.3%
- Stomach Cancer
- U. S. – 33.1%
- France – 26.7%
- U. K. – 20.7%
The availability of expensive drug treatments is only one reason for better survival rates in the U.S. Another reason is better methods of detecting cancer at earlier stages. MRI scanners are more widespread and available for earlier diagnosis. Other diagnostic advances include Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) that can now detect breast and lung cancers with better accuracy – meaning fewer false positives and negatives – than radiologists. AI systems are also enabling researchers to identify more genetic links and to personalize treatments.
If you are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer, you can take heart in knowing that you have the best chances of survival if you live in the U.S. However, this advantage over other nations will disappear if we ever allow socialized medicine to be introduced into the American healthcare system.