Five decades ago, cancer was viewed as a monolithic and largely untreatable disease, with only a handful of hard-to-tolerate and mostly ineffective therapies available. Since that time, major U.S. investments in cancer research have led to dramatic improvements in our biologic understanding of cancer and important advances in our ability to treat and prevent the disease.
As a result, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. Today, two out of three people live at least 5 years after a cancer diagnosis, up from roughly one out of two in the 1970s. There are nearly 14 million survivors in the United States alone. Fueled by earlier detection and better treatments, the nation’s cancer death rate has dropped 20% since the early 1990s, reversing decades of increases.
Highlights of Cancer Progress
Targeted therapies: Highly tailored, more effective treatments have been developed to target the genetics of many cancers, providing better cancer control and fewer side effects.
Drug approvals: The number of drugs available to treat cancer grew from just a handful to more than 170 drug indications today, most approved in the last decade.
Surgical advances: Today’s cancer surgeries are more precise, less disfiguring, and produce fewer complications than in the past, without sacrificing effectiveness.
Radiation therapy: Advanced technologies allow radiation to be tailored to each patient’s tumor type, size and location, improving survival and minimizing the risk of serious side effects such as lung scarring and heart damage.
Multidisciplinary treatment: Many patients now receive carefully-honed combinations of treatments—including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and/or targeted drugs—to extend survival and offer the best chance for cure.
Side effects management: Better ways of managing nausea, pain, and other side effects are enabling patients to live better, more fulfilling lives.
Major successes: Revolutionary progress against some cancers shows what is possible. Five-year survival rates for breast cancer, testicular cancer, and some childhood cancers are now over 90%.
Under the guidance of an editorial board of 20 of the nation’s leading oncologists, ASCO has developed an interactive Cancer Progress Timeline that highlights some of the most important advances that have contributed to progress against cancer. To explore the timeline, visit