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Are Increasing 5-Year Survival Rates Evidence of Success Against Cancer? A reexamination using data from the U.S. and Australia

Listed author(s):
  • Frank R. Lichtenberg

Previous investigators argued that increasing 5-year survival for cancer patients should not be taken as evidence of improved prevention, screening, or therapy, because they found little correlation between the change in 5-year survival for a specific tumor and the change in tumor-related mortality. However, they did not control for the change in incidence, which influences mortality and is correlated with 5-year survival. We reexamine the question of whether increasing 5-year survival rates constitute evidence of success against cancer, using data from both the U.S. and Australia. When incidence growth is controlled for, there is a highly significant correlation, in both countries, between the change in 5-year survival for a specific tumor and the change in tumor-related mortality. The increase in the relative survival rate is estimated to have reduced the unconditional mortality rate by about 15% in the U.S. between 1976 and 2002, and by about 15% in Australia between 1984 and 2001. While the change in the 5-year survival rate is not a perfect measure of progress against cancer, in part because it is potentially subject to lead-time bias, it does contain useful information; its critics may have been unduly harsh. Part of the long-run increase in 5-year cancer survival rates is due to improved prevention, screening, or therapy.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16051.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
Publication status: published as Frank R. Lichtenberg, 2010. "Are Increasing 5-Year Survival Rates Evidence of Success Against Cancer? A Reexamination Using Data from the U.S. and Australia," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, Berkeley Electronic Press, vol. 13(2).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16051
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  1. Frank Lichtenberg, 2009. "The effect of new cancer drug approvals on the life expectancy of American cancer patients, 1978-2004," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(5), pages 407-428.
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