World Cancer Day 2019: Successes, Challenges and Opportunities on the Road to a Cancer-Free World

Cancer Ribbons in Hand

The work to create a cancer-free world spans generations and continents, with each year bringing new triumphs and challenges.

To honor World Cancer Day, we reflect on a quarter century of success in the effort to reduce the cancer death rate in the U.S., while calling for an end to the disparities in our healthcare system that prevent the equal distributions of these benefits.

Also, our experts share their thoughts on the growing field of immunotherapy, which could help doctors reach new heights in the ongoing worldwide effort to save lives through comprehensive cancer care and research:

The American Cancer Society recently announced the reaching of a significant milestone: 25 years of decline of the U.S. cancer death rate.

David Cohn, MD: “The decrease in cancer deaths over the last 25 years is something that the community can celebrate. However, there remains an enormous amount of work to continue this progress towards the vision of a cancer-free world and to ensure that all of our cancer communities are able to benefit from the remarkable progress in cancer prevention and treatment.”

David Carbone, MD, PhD: “I’ve been in this business for about 30 years now, and when I started, I’d say the majority of lung cancer patients received no cancer therapy at all. They just received symptomatic therapy with pain killers, and they would die very quickly; the average time from diagnosis to death was between four and six months. Now, we have patients at six, seven, eight years with no evidence of cancer who had metastatic disease and probably would have lived six months in the past who now have normal qualities of life.”

The ACS report wasn’t entirely positive, however, showing significant gaps in cancer outcomes based on patients’ economic conditions.

Electra Paskett, PhD: Cancer rates are decreasing in many populations across the world, as our ability to prevent, detect and treat many cancers continues to evolve. Unfortunately, these gains are not recognized in all populations equally, creating vast disparities in cancer incidence and mortality, in large part due to inequalities in access to these life-saving technologies and strategies. On World Cancer Day, we need to advocate for equal access and equal outcomes for all populations in relation to cancer.

Darrell Gray, MD: Cancer touches us all, whether through a personal battle or via that of a friend, family member, coworker or acquaintance. On World Cancer Day and every day, we need greater unity in ensuring that advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer reach every community. 

Researchers continue to break new ground in the cancer treatment, with immunotherapy among the most promising recent innovations.

Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD: "I am very excited about the emerging landscape of therapies that can help to boost our own immune systems to reject cancer—for any kind of cancer. Our team hopes to combine big data, analytics and the immune system to bring these therapies (and hope) to our patients."

Samantha Jaglowski, MD: “This is really exciting. The best part is that you can offer people who had no hope, you can offer them hope they had no hope. It’s great to see people completely living normal, healthy lives. We’ve got two people who are two years after their treatment, and it’s as if we did nothing—like there was nothing wrong with them. It’s just incredibly exciting to be able to offer these treatments to patients.”

John Hays, MD, PhD: “In the past, we’ve always used therapies based on where a cancer originated. In this case (the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab), we’ve found that certain molecular signatures can happen similarly in different kinds of cancers. These molecular signatures make a patient more likely to respond to this new kind of therapy. We can give a drug that doesn’t have the side effects that are normally associated with chemotherapy and still maintain much of the benefit, if not more in many cases."