Dec 15, 2017 - Health Care

How cancer survival rates have changed since the 70s

More people are surviving a cancer diagnosis today than in the 1970s, according to a report released earlier this year by government agencies and cancer groups. That's the good news facing former Vice President Joe Biden, who's speaking with Mike Allen at an Axios event in Philadelphia today, as he continues his work to speed the progress of cancer research.

But the survival rates are still low for several kinds — including brain cancers like the type that killed his son, Beau Biden.

Data: Journal of the National Cancer Institute; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

What's next: Immunotherapies are one promising area of cancer treatment, but there are questions about why checkpoint inhibitors (one class of immunotherapeutic drugs) work in some patients but not others. These treatments, and others known as CAR T-cell therapies that involve changing a patient's own immune cells so they will attack cancerous cells, can also cause serious side effects that researchers are racing to understand.

Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee of Johns Hopkins University, president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research, says these are the most likely advances in immunotherapy to watch over the next few years:

  • Developing "accelerator" therapies to help the immune system activate more quickly.
  • Activating T-cells that have never been activated before by targeting monocytes, a type of white blood cell.
  • Inhibiting molecules formed when T-cells metabolize so the immune cells can better respond to cancerous ones.

Keep in mind: For breast, prostate and a handful of other cancers, increased screening and early detection may have improved survival rates while masking only minor gains in longevity. Prevention is how we've made the most headway in decreasing actual death rates from cancer — with fewer people smoking, for example — and where more progress can be made.

What's next

Florida cancer researchers resign over institute's China ties

Top executives and researchers from a Florida cancer center were forced out amid problems with a Chinese partnership that could have put American-funded research at risk, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Why it matters: The FBI and other federal agencies are on high alert for potential Chinese theft of American cancer research, and prominent researchers from other institutions have already been forced to step down. The CEO, a vice president and four researchers from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Florida stepped down after an internal investigation.

Go deeper: China's dominance in drug manufacturing is a national security issue

Google develops AI system that outperforms radiologists in detecting breast cancer

Photo: Lyu Liang/VCG via Getty Images

Google Health developed an artificial intelligence system that can identify cases of breast cancer from mammograms more accurately than radiologists according to an international study, the Financial Times reports.

Why it matters: It's the latest example of how AI could improve early detection of diseases and reduce both false positives and false negatives diagnoses.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she is starting 2020 "cancer free"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told CNN she is starting the year "cancer free," after suffering from a series of health complications in recent years.

The big picture: The 86-year-old is the longest-serving member of the court's liberal wing and has been treated for cancer twice in just over a year, including a treatment that forced her to miss oral arguments for the first time in her career.

Go deeper: Ginsburg says historians will view today's political climate as "an aberration"