Although rare cancers certainly need attention, so do the biggest cancer killers, some of which are fairly common, say several advocacy organizations. “In 1971, the overall survival rate for all cancers together was 50%, and a number of cancers still haven't reached that benchmark,” says Megan Gordon Don, director of government affairs for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and chair of the Deadly Cancer Coalition.
Don testified before the US House Subcommittee on Health about the importance of supporting research for these cancers, which together caused nearly half of the 562,340 estimated cancer deaths in 2009. These cancers and their survival rates include: ovary (45.5%), brain (35%), myeloma (34.9%), stomach (24.7%), esophagus (15.2%), liver (11.7%), and pancreas (5.1%).
Because the number of pancreatic cancer cases has surpassed 40,000 annually, the disease is not considered rare, and yet it is clearly deadly, with few treatment options, Don notes. In addition, the deadliest cancers are expected to increase dramatically in the next 20 years, she adds, citing the following projections published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology: lung cancer is expected to increase by 52%, pancreatic cancer by 55%, liver cancer by 59%,and stomach cancer by 67%.1 “All of these deadly cancers are underfunded, and there are few early detection tests or treatments. For many, we don't even have agents that we're testing,” Don says.
Deadly cancers face some of the same hurdles as rare cancers in terms of obtaining research funding, according to Don. Pancreatic cancer, for example, receives less than 2% of the NCI's nearly $5 billion budget, whereas less than 18% of the NCI's 2008 research budget was dedicated to the 8 deadly cancers, she notes. In Don's testimony to Congress and in a request to the NCI, the Deadly Cancer Coalition called for the creation of a targeted cancers program focused on deadly cancers, a strategic plan for deadly cancer research, a dedicated grant program, and expert review of grants for these cancers.