It is no secret that I have been a vocal critic of national cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Komen organization because of the focus on a cure instead of prevention.
The money we spend on finding a cure and increasing survival rates of cancer is monstrous. And there have clearly been some strong advances. But I emphasize the word “some.” For the money we have spent collectively on the War on Cancer the result should be clear and strong.
But, much like the War on Drugs, there has been a massive amount of money wasted down avenues that have little payout while the target (whether cancer cells or drug cartels) continue to adapt to whatever direction we apply force. Always a day late and dollar short.
The most recent Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, put out by the American Cancer Society, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association for Central Cancer Registries, gives us a report on just how well we are stopping cancer deaths.
To put this in context, you need to understand that the research on cancer prevention is very strong and clearly demonstrates that our most common cancers (lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic, colon) are largely preventable with lifestyle choices. The American Institute of Cancer Research is the lone organization (that I am aware of) spearheading both the research and the education that we need to know (the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is also in line with the AICR, but this group’s focus is not just on cancer).
Here are the numbers:
- The overall incidence of cancer fell by 0.4% a year from 2001 to 2010 (mostly in men).
- Overall death rate decreased by 1.5% per year from 2001 through 2010.
- In general, cancer patients are very likely to have other chronic diseases (32% of breast cancer patients, 30% of prostate cancer patients, 53% of lung cancer patients, 41% of colorectal cancer patients).
- For those with local and regional cancer, they were more likely to die from the other disease than from the cancer (in other words, these patients still likely would have died from the cancer, but the other disease took them first).
- For those patients diagnosed with distant disease (metastasis), they were more likely to die from cancer than other causes.
While, from this report, it does appear that we are making some small headway against the cancer epidemic, I still contend that these results are very poor given the money we have spent over the past 40 years on cancer research.
Further, if you look at the data, it is likely that many of these patients would have died from their cancers, but were taken by heart disease or stroke (as an example) before they could become a cancer statistic. I’m not sure how much this affects the numbers of death by cancer, but it doesn’t seem like we’re winning here by the patient’s definition of “winning.”