NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 24, 2006

The number of Americans dying from cancer fell for the first time in decades, according the National Center for Health Statistics. The Wall Street Journal calls this achievement the medical equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

Consider the great news:

  • For women, two of the most deadly forms of the disease -- lung and breast cancer -- are being successfully treated; for men, death from 11 of the 15 most common forms of cancer are on the decline, including prostate, colon, kidney, lung and leukemia.
  • Childhood cancer showed some of the largest improvement in survival rates over the past 20 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Cancer deaths have fallen one percent per year since 1991; if the trend continues, our children will face a 25 percent lower risk of dying from cancer (at any age) than we do today.

Why is cancer death falling? One reason has been from a decline in smoking. Other factors include early detection and better treatment, both the result of medical innovation. But most importantly, new drug therapies that are less punishing and invasive than surgery or chemotherapy have been developed thanks to the incentives of a private medical marketplace.

This is in marked contrast to the anti-cancer record of government-run health systems elsewhere in the world, say the WSJ, where the systems can be as cruel to cancer patients as the cancer itself:

  • Only about one in five American men with prostate cancer will die from it, but about 57 percent of British men and nearly half of French and German men will do so.
  • In Britain, only 40 percent of cancer patients are even permitted to see an oncologist to treat the disease.
  • Two-thirds of Canadian provinces report sending their colon cancer patients to the United States for treatment.

Source: Editorial, "Cancer Prognosis," Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2006.

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