Progress in cancer treatment continues to surge


With U.S. life expectancy for people with cancer at an all-time high, life-years saved now surpass 50 million.

U.S. life expectancy for people with cancer hit another all-time high, rising over 50 million life-years (LYS) after diagnosis, according to statistics collected through the Value of Medical Innovation initiative, led by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI).

The estimate of approximately 50 million LYS is based on the number of additional years of life that each person diagnosed with cancer since 1990 has experienced as a result of advances in science and broader access to novel cancer therapies. CMPI cautions, however, that those gains could be at risk if the policy environment and healthcare system at large do not accelerate access to the innovations responsible for longer lives and declines in cancer-related death rates.

“The efficacy of cancer treatments is often measured in terms of a cure. However, medical innovation has been able to add years to the lives of cancer patients. Sometimes a few years, sometimes decades,” Robert Goldberg, PhD, cofounder, CMPI, said. “But each of those years is crucial to the patients involved. Since 1990 we’ve added more than 50-million life years to patients with cancer. We have a long way to go, but it does show we are making progress, and the money spent on treating patients is paying off.”

Drugs have become 75% of the increase in life years saved since 1990, according to Goldberg. “They are far more cost-effective than treatments that require hospitalizations, and the new trend toward oral cancer drugs that don’t require infusion centers is even more cost effective.

In 1990, there were about 6 million cancer survivors in the United States. Today, there are about 14 million. Back then, about 57% of cancer patients could expect to live 5 years or more. Today, that number is nearly 70%. And the value that innovative therapies bring by way of longer life, productivity, consumer consumption of goods, increasing healthcare system efficiencies and societal prosperity is more than $4.8 trillion.

Research suggests that even greater gains in life-years-along with a decline in the cost of treating cancer-are possible through personalized medicine, which reduces the cost and time of treatment compared with the old one-size-fits-all model. “Formulary decision-makers are at the focus of supporting clinicians and helping find the right drug for the right person right off the bat. Don't force patients into failing first on older treatments that are not targeted to specific tumors or genetic mutations,” Goldberg said.

“Don't forget cancer-related therapies account for less than 1% of U.S. healthcare spending. Efforts to impose price controls on new medicines or using less-expensive but less-effective medicines, instead of focusing on policy that makes the best medicines affordable to cancer patients through cost-sharing reforms and equitable insurance reimbursement will not save money,” he continued. “Just the opposite. That approach will drive up the total cost of care and cost lives, and ignore the 50-million life years saved by moving forward with innovation.”

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