Survey Shows Public's Knowledge of Cancer Progress Is Rising, But Myths Persist 

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We all have to do a better job and think of some fresh ways to get people into clinical trials. We need to remove patients’ cultural concerns and their suspicions and worries over costs and inconvenience.

—Newton F. Crenshaw

People are more optimistic today about their chances of surviving cancer, according to findings from a new international survey commissioned by Lilly Oncology. The phone survey of 4,341 individuals (including people in the general population, cancer survivors, and caregivers) in six countries (the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) found that a near majority (48%) of respondents do not think a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. Americans had the most optimistic outlook, with a whopping 65% of respondents saying they do not believe that cancer always leads to death. 

Attitudes about Clinical Trials

Perhaps even more surprising, a clear majority of respondents (74%) said they would be willing to participate in clinical trials. Other sizable majorities agreed that “Patients needed more opportunities to participate” in clinical trials and that they would even be willing to participate in clinical studies if it could only benefit future patients. In the United States, however, the reality is that fewer than 5% of cancer patients actually enroll in clinical trials, according to the American Cancer Society.1 The willingness to enter clinical trials dropped off considerably when obstacles like cost and inconvenience were introduced.

“This was one of the most important findings in the survey, and it is a point that needs to be looked at by a multi-stakeholder group, including health-care regulators and policymakers, because the pharmaceutical industry alone cannot solve this problem,” said Newton F. Crenshaw, Vice President of Lilly Oncology. “We all have to do a better job and think of some fresh ways to get people into clinical trials. We need to remove patients’ cultural concerns and their suspicions and worries over costs and inconvenience.”

Desire for Personalized Medicine

While nearly 6 in 10 respondents said they were satisfied with the amount of progress made in the fight against cancer over the past 2 decades, large majorities—73% of Americans and 83% of Japanese people surveyed—agreed that it takes too long for new cancer therapies to reach patients. In every country except Japan, most agreed that progress in cancer research would be slowed due to a poor economy. 

Interestingly, while 62% of respondents agreed that the same cancer medication can produce very different results in patients with a similar diagnosis, only one-third overall and 48% of Americans are aware of personalized medicine. Once the concept of personalized medicine was explained, however, 85% said that doctors needed to discuss customized treatment with every patient, and 70% agreed that they would want to be tested for personalized medicine even if it might not work for them.

Myths About Cancer

Among the prevailing myths surrounding cancer is that it is a single disease, with just a slight majority (51%) correctly stating that cancer comprises many different diseases that can appear in different parts of the body. “When you are a cancer patient or a caregiver for a cancer patient, you begin to understand how different and how intricate this disease is, so the fact that there are still people who believe that cancer is a monolithic disease is a myth we ought to dispel,” said Mr. Crenshaw, a survivor of large diffuse B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Large numbers of respondents also underestimated the amount of time it takes to bring a new cancer drug to market and at least two-thirds—and nearly three-quarters of Americans—believed that the cost of researching and developing a new cancer therapy is $100 million or less. (Studies on estimates of the actual cost of bringing a new drug to market vary widely at between $1.3 billion and $12 billion.2)

The impact of a cancer diagnosis on family and friends ranked as the top fear cited by 67% of respondents, 1 percentage point above fear of death, and followed closely by inability to pay for treatment (65%).

Remedying Misperceptions

According to Mr. Crenshaw, Lilly Oncology plans to use the information from the survey to spur a dialogue among health-care policymakers, cancer survivors, and other stakeholders to remedy the misperceptions of cancer and cancer care detailed in the survey and help speed innovation in more effective therapies. 

For more information on the PACE (Patient Access to Cancer care Excellence) Cancer Perception Index: A Six-Nation, Public Opinion Survey of Cancer Knowledge and Attitudes, visit ■

Disclosure: Mr. Crenshaw is Vice President of Lilly Oncology.


1. American Cancer Society: Clinical trials: What you need to know. Available at Accessed February 27, 2013.

2. Herper M: The truly staggering cost of inventing new drugs. Forbes. February 10, 2012. Available at Accessed February 27, 2013.