Cancer Therapy in 2020


In 2020, an estimated 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States, the equivalent of some 5,190 new cases each day. Furthermore, approximately 630,000 Americans are predicted to die of cancer—a staggering 1,720 deaths per day.

As the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease, cancer places a tremendous burden on individuals, families and our society as a whole. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that the direct medical costs for cancer in the U.S. in 2015 was an overwhelming $80.2 billion.

Over the last decade, significant advances in research, education, early detection methods and treatment have boosted cancer survival rates while new therapies continue to be developed. The recent introduction of cancer immunotherapies, in particular those based on immune checkpoint inhibitors, has created a paradigm shift in clinical oncology. These drugs work by unleashing the body’s own immune responses to promote elimination of cancer cells.


While traditional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation are often used as a first-line treatment to fight cancer, immunotherapy has been gaining popularity with the support of promising research, clinical trials and new reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services (CMS). In fact, a recent analysis shows that hospitals are investing more in cancer immunotherapies, with researchers finding a 199 percent rise in spending on immunotherapies used to treat small cell lung cancer during the first three quarters of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. Moreover, first-line immunotherapy, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy, is already considered the standard of care for selected patients with non–small cell lung cancer.

While tremendous progress has been made with immunotherapy modalities, today only a small percentage of patients are benefiting from such therapies. A recently published paper estimated that 43.63 percent of U.S. cancer patients are eligible for checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy; yet, on average, only 12.46 percent are estimated to respond. At the same time, the high cost of immunotherapy ($30,000–300,000 per year for an individual patient) and the risk of developing immune-related adverse events place pressure on the health system to prescribe such therapies only to those patients who are most likely to benefit. However, robust methods to identify appropriate candidates for immunotherapy are still lacking.

Source: Scientific American

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Christopher Lancer

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Advances in Cancer Prevention Journal

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