The Best Kind of Progress: Cancer Medicines and the Value They Bring to Us All

Since the mid-1970s, survival rates are up 58% for childhood cancers, 54% for lung cancer, 50% for prostate cancer, 36% for colon cancer and 21% for breast cancer.

Josephine MartinOctober 3, 2014

“I have been alive eight years, with metastatic breast cancer…in part that’s due to modern medicine.”

The words of Dian “CJ” Corneliussen-James should inspire us all and fill us with the hope that through innovation, dedication and great care, we can ultimately defeat cancer. CJ is the first profile in PhRMA’s “I'm Not Average Campaign” but she is so much more than that. She represents the progress we as a society have made in fighting cancer.

The biopharmaceutical industry works hard every day to achieve this progress and the results are strong:

  • The U.S. cancer death rate is down 20 percent since the all-time high in 1991
  • Since the mid-1970s, survival rates are up 58 percent for childhood cancers, 54 percent for lung cancer, 50 percent for prostate cancer, 36 percent for colon cancer and 21 percent for breast cancer.
  • Since the start of the war on cancer, investment in new treatments resulted in 23 million additional life-years and $1.9 trillion in value to society overall.
  • There are over 3,000 drugs in development for cancer around the world.  Of those, about 80 percent have the potential to be first-in-class treatments

Does anyone really want to slow this progress? We’ve made tremendous strides and we must keep forging ahead. But sometimes we as a society forget what we have achieved and focus on the wrong things. We are often asked, what is the cost of this progress? In fact, spending on cancer medicines in the U.S. remains low, representing less than one percent of U.S. health care spending. So for that small fraction of overall health expenditures, we are achieving great results for patients. There are breakthorough treatments and even cures on the horizon for so many cancer patients. There has never been more promise for those suffering from cancer.

For patients to continue to benefit, however, they must have access to these needed medicines. Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles that patients currently face. One of the most challenging is the fact that insurers are increasingly forcing patients to pay a disproportionately high share of prescription drug costs, particularly cancer medicines. This can make medicines artificially appear to be the most expensive part of the health care system, when in fact they are delivering some of the best value to patients. 

A recent study found that while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was created to help patients get care, the insurance plans in the health exchanges are actually limiting options, especially for individuals with chronic conditions like cancer. According to a recent analysis, 75 percent of exchange insurance plans subject cancer medicines to coinsurance, which could result in the first month. The purpose of insurance is to help patients get the care they need, not impose artificial barriers to access or unnecessary cost burdens.

In CJ’s words, “I think it is very important that every patient be given the chance to survive longer.” We couldn’t agree more. Learn more about the value of cancer medicines and the benefits to patients at

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