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Cancer Survival Rates Improving, Study Shows

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A new study shows that more people are surviving cancer.

The study, which was led by Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Wei Zheng and published in the journal JAMA Oncology, found that middle-aged people (50 to 64) diagnosed with cancer between 2005 and 2009 were 39 to 68 percent more likely to be alive five years later, compared to people diagnosed in the early 1990s.

Zheng and his team based their findings on a study of more than a million people diagnosed with cancer of the colon, breast, prostate, lung, liver, pancreas, or ovary between 1990 and 2010.

“Pretty much all populations improved their cancer survival over time,” Zheng said. The only exception: ovarian cancer. Women aged 50 to 64 diagnosed between 1990 and 1994 had a survival rate of 47 percent. That rate hasn’t changed dramatically in the past two decades.

Still, on the whole the report brings good news. For example, between 1990 and 1994 five-year survival rates for lung cancer were just 13 percent — today, it’s 27 percent.

Unsurprisingly, Zheng credits better treatment options and improved cancer screenings for the overall improvement in survival rates. Still, there’s work to be done; for example, Zheng wants to know why the survival rate for people aged 75 to 85 rose by just 12 to 35 percent.

“In general our study shows different segments benefit differently from recent advances in oncology,” Zheng said. “We need to find out the reason.”

One popular theory for a lower survival rate among older adults is that many physicians may be reticent to pursue more aggressive and physically taxing treatments, such as chemotherapy.

But for now, that’s just a theory. “Additional research is needed to find the reasons why there are gaps,” Zheng said.

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