That's no longer the case, however, thanks to advances in early detection, improved therapies and a better understanding of the genetics driving different forms of cancer, he said.
"Forty years ago, fewer than one-third of patients with a diagnosis of cancer lived five years. Almost no children with a diagnosis of the most common form of childhood cancer, acute leukemia, lived [that long]," said Dana-Farber president Dr. Edward Benz Jr. "In 2011, nearly 90 percent of children diagnosed with acute leukemia will be cured and nearly two-thirds of all people diagnosed with cancer will live at least five years."
Since 1991 alone, there's been more than an 18 percent reduction in deaths from cancer, added Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
An ounce of prevention
Much of this progress may have started with prevention.
Declines in smoking rates, helped by the landmark U.S. Surgeon General's Report in 1964 linking smoking to cancer, have continued over the decades, preventing countless cases of lung malignancies and other forms of cancer.
Colonoscopies to detect pre-cancerous polyps have not only reduced mortality but prevented many cases of colorectal cancer outright.
The adoption of regular mammography screening for breast cancer is another success story in its own right, as is screening for cervical cancer.
Thanks to, first, the Pap smear (which looks for abnormal cells on the cervix) and now the HPV test (which detects the human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer), death rates from cervical cancer in the United States plummeted more than 60 percent between 1955 and 1992, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
No doubt, incidence and mortality from cervical cancer will continue to decline with the advent of another major weapon: newly approved vaccines that prevent infection with the strains of HPV that cause most cases of this type o
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