Cancer in Numbers (Part 3): High Survival Rates Explained

An increase in cancer survival rates is one of the remarkable progressions evident in recent statistics from the National Cancer Institute. The numbers indicate that decades of painstaking experiments by the world’s leading medical researchers show more promise than ever. To truly appreciate such medical breakthroughs, let’s dig deeper beyond numbers.

This article explores the history of certain cancer types, their treatment breakthroughs, and the contributive strategies that increased cancer survival rates.

Highest Cancer Survival Rates and Discoveries That Raised These Numbers

Throughout this discussion, we will use data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, which details facts and figures about the most common cancers in the United States. In particular, malignancies with the highest survival rates occur in the thyroid, prostate, testis, skin, and breast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), statisticians calculate relative cancer survival rates through the observation of all-cause survival in a group of cancer patients divided by the expected all-cause survival of the general population. Visit Measures of Cancer Survival and our Guide to Cancer Survival Rates for further clarifications.

If you review SEER’s numbers, you will notice that some survival rates are favorable at 90% and above. However, it’s important to note that each patient’s outlook is unique, catering more accurately to their individual circumstances.

Let’s dive deeper into the top five cancers with high survival rates and dissect how the scientific community has improved these numbers through the years.

Thyroid Cancer

Its 98.4% relative survival rate and 0.5% mortality rate allow modern diagnostic techniques and treatments to target thyroid cancer successfully.

In most cases, a thyroidectomy or lobectomy can address this disease. These surgeries result in the total or partial removal of the thyroid. However, while most patients recover and do well after surgery, follow-up care is crucial since most thyroid malignancies grow slowly and can return even a decade after treatment.

The development of radioactive iodine and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) suppression treatment significantly helped against cancer recurrence. Radioactive iodine works as an adjuvant treatment by eliminating any remaining thyroid cancer cells in the body. TSH suppression treatment works similarly to radioactive iodine, reducing the chance of cancer recurrence by preventing thyroid cancer cell growth.

Prostate Cancer

Although it has the second highest survival rate, prostate cancer also has a considerably high death rate. The 10-year relative survival rate for this type of cancer is 98%, but 1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. Recurrence is the main cause of this contradiction, as prostate cancer re-emerges in 20 to 30% of men after the five-year mark following primary treatment with surgery or radiation.

Onto better news, its high survival rate is still something to celebrate. Initial findings of prostate cancer date back to 1853. Since then, countless scientists worldwide have contributed to recent medical advancements.

Some of the notable scientists in prostate cancer research include:

  • Charles Huggins: discovered that prostate cancer responds to androgen therapy
  • Andrew Schally: isolated and synthesized the potentially prostate cancer-treating LHRH (luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone)
  • Patrick Walsh: popularized radical retropubic prostatectomy – a surgical approach to prostate cancer treatment
  • Malcolm Bagshaw: developed techniques focused on using radiation therapy for prostate cancer
  • Gerald Murphy: evaluated the use of chemotherapy in hormone-refractory prostate cancer and discovered the prostate-specific antigen

Testicular Cancer

Prostate cancer is a prevalent disease, with 1 in 8 men at risk during their lifetime. Although rare among men under 40, the likelihood increases after age 65.

This type of cancer has a relative survival rate of 95% and a death rate of only 0.3%. Through the years, scientists have developed several diagnostic methods for early detection, which is critical to improving a patient’s prognosis. The methods include:

  • Identifying risk factors such as undescended testicles, infertility, family history, and race
  • Identifying early symptoms of prostate cancer, including a painless testicular mass, scrotal heaviness, and aching or pain in the testicles
  • Ordering the patient to undergo scrotal ultrasonography, computed tomography, and chest radiography
  • Testing for infertility through semen analysis

Skin Cancer

Melanoma has a relative survival rate of 93.7%. This form of skin cancer arises in the cells (melanocytes) responsible for producing melanin. Melanoma has plagued humanity since the 5th Century BC. Hippocrates, the well-known Greek physician who laid the foundations for modern medicine, identified the disease and was the first to document its description, “melas oma,” meaning a dark tumor in Greek.

In 2002, researchers began to understand more about the disease’s molecular weaknesses. They discovered that BRAF mutations were a leading cause of melanoma, and that activating modifications in the serine/threonine kinase BRAF in 50% of all melanomas spurred a targeted therapy. A supporting study focused on genetic functions in cancer cells also found that the agents vemurafenib (BRAF inhibitor) and ipilimumab (anti-CTLA4 antibody) conferred a survival benefit to participants in a randomized clinical trial.

After securing an FDA-approval in 2011, ipilimumab – a type of immunotherapy – has become one of the most powerful treatment options against a subset of metastatic melanomas. Check out the article A Survivor’s Experience With Melanoma and Immunotherapy for an in-depth look at Bryant Wieneke’s healing journey.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer has the highest number of predicted cases for 2022, with SEER estimating 290,560 people developing the disease. The good news is that breast cancer has a high survival rate of 90.5%, and most cases remain localized when detected early.

Breast cancer has three major subtypes. Each depends on the absence or presence of certain molecular markers. These subtypes are as follows:

  • ERBB2 negative: occurs in 70% of breast cancer patients
  • ERBB2 positive: occurs in 15% to 20% of breast cancer patients
  • Triple-negative: breast cancer cases that lack molecular markers

Some of the best breast cancer advances that will play an essential role in improving patient outcomes include:

  • Trastuzumab deruxtecan: a drug that prevents tumor expansion in ERBB2-low patients
  • INTRABEAM 600: a state-of-the-art device for breast cancer treatment
  • Differentiation: a therapeutic approach that promotes cellular senescence by reprogramming breast cancer cells to weaken

From new drug discoveries to groundbreaking medical devices, every day, we move closer to improving cancer outcomes and achieving life-saving objectives. As long as we prioritize early detection and treatment – two core goals at the forefront of the fight against cancer – a positive prognosis is within reach, especially when you choose New Hope Unlimited as your ally.

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