The use of immunotherapies for cancer treatment expanded in 2016, with checkpoint inhibitors, a class of immunotherapeutics, now approved for six different types of cancers, including bladder cancer, head and neck cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma, according to the sixth annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Progress Report.
A year ago, checkpoint inhibitors – which seek to overcome one of cancer’s main defenses against an immune attack - were only approved for use in melanoma and lung cancer.
“The promise of immunotherapy for cancer therapy has never been greater and the opportunity to make significant progress in this critical area is real,” said Nancy Davidson, president of the AACR and director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. “However, continued progress is going to require a sustained federal commitment to the research agenda.”
While noting that federal funding continues to advance progress in cancer research, the report calls for “robust, sustained and predictable” funding to accelerate new findings. Along with a push for funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the report urges strong financial support for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
“Research has made tremendous advances against cancer,” said Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the AACR. “However, we need to accelerate the pace of progress because it is unacceptable that one American will die of cancer every minute of every day this year.”
Among the points of progress highlighted in the report:
— Between 2014 and 2016, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. rose by 1 million, reaching an estimated 15.5 million.
— In the past year, the FDA approved 13 new anticancer therapeutics and new uses for 11 previously approved therapeutics.
— Four of the 13 are immunotherapeutics, which are increasing survival and improving quality of life for patients with an increasing number of types of cancer.
Despite significant medical advances, the report notes that the disease continues to present personal and economic challenges for patients, with more than 595,000 people in the U.S. projected to die from cancer in 2016. Certain racial and ethnic minority groups, individuals with low economic status, residents in certain geographic locations and the elderly continue to suffer disproportionately from cancer and its associated effects.
The report predicts that the burden of cancer is expected to grow in the coming decades:
— The number of new cases of cancer in the U.S. is predicted to rise from 1.7 million in 2015 to 2.4 million in 2035.
— Cancer is the number one cause of death among children.
— It is estimated that direct medical costs of cancer care in the U.S. in 2010 were nearly $125 billion, and that these costs will rise to $156 billion in 2020.
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