Researchers used 5-year relative survival, which is the percentage of patients who have not died of their cancer 5 years after their diagnosis. You can learn more about different measures of cancer survival on the Surveillance Research Program website. Throughout this section of the report, the researchers compared survival rates from two time periods: 1975-1977 and 2006-2012.
Cancer survival rates for all cancers combined have been improving since 1975. Improvements in survival are likely related to advances in treatment and declines in surgical mortality. Better anesthesia, supportive care, and quality improvement programs may have reduced the rate of surgical deaths among cancer patients. Research has led to major breakthroughs in therapies for some cancer types, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic myelogenous leukemia. These treatments have contributed to the increase in 5-year survival.
We can also see increases in survival for different cancer types between the two time periods.
Survival increased for almost all cancer sites, even when patients received diagnoses of distant-stage disease (e.g., Stage IV). While 5-year survival tends to be lower when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, researchers expect survival to continue to increase thanks to new advances in treatment. Precision medicine and immunotherapy are examples of recent movements that may improve survival for late-stage cancers, particularly melanoma and lung cancer.
We can learn more information about cancer by looking at survival rates for specific populations. The Report to the Nation has cancer survival rates by race/ethnicity.
While survival has mostly improved over time, differences in survival by race that existed in 1975 are still evident in the data from 2012. For example, while survival rates for the most common cancers combined have improved among both blacks and whites, blacks still have a lower overall survival rate.
The graphs below show survival rates for the 20 most common cancer sites (in order from highest to lowest rates of new cases). When comparing the two time periods, prostate cancer had the largest increase in survival for all races, whites, and blacks.
We also see differences in survival depending on where patients live; survival rates were often higher in northeastern states and lower in southern states. This may be due to several factors, including differences between the population demographics of each state (e.g., race, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status). Unequal survival rates may also be related to differences in cancer screening rates and access to/quality of health care. View this table to see survival rates for all states included in this report. You can learn more about cancer in your state by visiting State Cancer Profiles.
This report also compared survival of childhood cancers between 1975 and 2012. In 1975, the 5-year survival rate for the most common childhood cancers combined was only 58%. By 2012, it improved to 85%. The graph below shows increases in survival rates for individual types of childhood cancer. The highest increases in survival were in acute myeloid leukemia (48.3% increase) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (47.6% increase). Researchers attribute many improvements in childhood cancer survival to better supportive care and clinical trials of combination chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and/or surgery. To learn more about NCI-supported clinical trials, visit NCI's website.