NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 14, 2004

Cancer today is the leading cause of years of potential life lost before age 75. Moreover, the mortality rate due to cancer has not fallen since 1969. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, however, we are making much progress against cancer.

The NBER analyzes data on 2.1 million people diagnosed with cancer between 1975 and 1995. He notes that cancer survivability has significantly increased:

  • A person diagnosed with cancer in 1975-9 would have a 50 percent chance of dying within five years.
  • For a person diagnosed with cancer in 1995, that rate had fallen to 37.3 percent.

Advances in drugs have had a considerable effect. For example:

  • New cancer drugs have increased the life expectancy of patients about one year, from 9.6 to 10.6 years.
  • As a result, these new cancer drugs account for 10.7 percent of the overall increase in U.S. life expectancy at birth.

The NBER argues that the reason that the cancer mortality rate has not fallen is because mortality rates of other diseases have fallen. As medical advances for diseases other than cancer lowered the risk of dying from those diseases, the risk of developing cancer increased.

Source: David R. Francis, "The Economic Efficiency of Cancer Drugs," NBER Digest, May 2004; based upon: Frank Lichtenberg, "The Expanding Pharmaceutical Arsenal in the War on Cancer," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 10328, February 2004.

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