A cancer diagnosis is just as devastating in 2015 as it was in 1950. The case of Henrietta Lacks - the donor behind the famous HeLa cells - shows that much with radium treatments that only seemed to spur her cancer on, instead of slowing it down.
However, much has changed since the famous story of Henrietta Lacks unfolded. Chemotherapy and less extreme surgeries have been approved. Radiotherapy, or the therapy of getting radiation, has long been debated. At one point, it was thought best that half of all new cases in Australia should have at least one session of radiotherapy during their treatment period. However, research has since suggested that for central nervous system tumors, the optimal rate is actually much higher at 92 percent.
In the United States, in 2010, the government enlisted scientists to evaluate how many patients would survive cancer in 2010 and 2020, as well as how much it would cost to treat cancer across all cancer patients. The estimates for 2010 were 13.8 million survivors and $124.57 million spent across all cancer patients. The reality was that 68 percent of all cancer patients lived in 2010.
What's really interesting, however, is how much cancer treatment has changed. Consider these statistics:
- Between 1975 and 1977, 50 percent of patients survived
- Between 1984 and 1986, 54 percent of patients survived
- Between 1999 and 2005, 68 percent of patients survived
Previously, a radical mastectomy was used more frequently in patients with breast cancer. However, treatments in 2015 are more sophisticated. The research is booming, and that is great news. There is even new research that suggests a heart medication can help to lower the incidence of heart issues due to cancer, although more research is needed.
In general, the outlook is improving for all types of cancer patients of all ages. Scientists are discovering new therapies and even finding that combining different therapies can provide a cancer patient with a longer life (in some cases, up to five years longer). With more and more research being conducted, we can estimate that cancer treatment options will continue to advance, and the life expectancy of cancer patients will continue to grow exponentially.