AACR Cancer Progress Report 2022 Shows Cancer Mortality Rates Continue to Decline, but Challenges Remain

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Advances in more effective treatment and early detection diagnostics, coupled with reductions in smoking rates, have resulted in a 32% decline in cancer mortality in the United States since 1991, translating into nearly 3.5 million lives saved, according to the newly released American Association for Cancer Research Cancer (AACR) Progress Report 2022: Decoding Cancer Complexity, Integrating Science, and Transforming Patient Outcomes. The combination of this progress in cancer care has also culminated in a large increase in the number of cancer survivors over the past 5 decades: from just 3 million survivors in 1971 to over 18 million in 2022.

These highlights and others from the report were released on September 21 during a briefing to members of Congress and the general public. They underscore the importance of continued robust and sustained annual increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to accelerate cancer advances, said Lisa M. Coussens, PhD, FAACR, President of the AACR.

Lisa M. Coussens, PhD, FAACR

Lisa M. Coussens, PhD, FAACR

“Much of the progress made against cancer has been supported by federal investments from the NIH, NCI, FDA, and CDC,” said Dr. Coussens during the briefing. “Federally funded research in cancer genomics, including ambitious large-scale initiatives, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas, have fueled a revolution in our understanding of cancer by identifying genetic areas that drive cancer development.” The innovative advances made in cancer research, said Dr. Coussens, have resulted in “a major shift away from a one-size-fits-all-approach to treating cancer to a more personalized one that includes molecularly targeted therapeutics and immunotherapies, which are yielding remarkable results for many patients.”

However, Dr. Coussens acknowledged that the remarkable clinical breakthroughs in cancer care are not being experienced by all patients.

“The stark reality is that individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved populations, such as those living in rural areas and those belonging to sexual and gender minorities, continue to shoulder a disproportionate burden of cancer. Moving forward, we must ensure that everyone benefits from the groundbreaking progress against cancer if we are able to achieve the goal of health equity for all,” she said.

Recognizing the Progress and Challenges Ahead

Additional highlights from the AACR report include:

  • The rate of cancer mortality has decreased by 2.3% in the years between 2016 and 2019.
  • Over the past year, the FDA has approved eight new anticancer therapies, including tebentafusp-tebn, the first drug to treat metastatic uveal melanoma; belzutifan, the first molecularly targeted therapeutic for von Hippel-Lindau syndrome; and relatlimab-rmbw, a new inhibitor against the protein LAG-3, a novel immune checkpoint target. The fDA also expanded the use of 10 anticancer therapeutics and approved two new diagnostic imaging agents.

The report also detailed the challenges that could derail future progress in cancer care, most notably the ongoing pervasiveness of cancer health disparities among medically underserved populations; the restriction of reproductive rights in about half of the states and the impact it could have on care for pregnant women with cancer; and the continuation of global wars and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Call to Action

To mitigate these challenges, the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2022 called on Congress to take specific actions, including:

  • Continuing to support robust and predictable annual funding growth in the NIH and NCI budgets by providing increases of at least $4.1 billion and $853 million, respectively, in their fiscal year 2023 base budgets
  • Fully funding initiatives authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act, including the National Cancer Moonshot
  • Reauthorizing the comprehensive Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act and providing at least $30 million for the Act’s implementation
  • Investing in vital cancer-related initiatives at the CDC and the FDA
  • Expanding Medicaid to ensure that patients with cancer have equitable access to quality, affordable health care
  • Structuring tax policies to encourage philanthropic giving so that nonprofit cancer research organizations are able to continue to fund high-risk, high-reward research proposals and accelerate the discovery of new treatments and cures.

“Moving forward, we must ensure that everyone benefits from the groundbreaking progress against cancer if we are able to achieve the goal of health equity for all. It is clear that medical research has and will continue to spur progress against cancer. If we seize the opportunities to drive research forward, we can stimulate additional breakthroughs that will indeed save lives,” concluded Dr. Coussens.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.