The good news is that many more people are surviving years after a cancer diagnosis. According to a new analysis the proportion of people surviving cancer is increasing through out the United States.

The analysis showed that for both men and women aged 50 to 64 who were diagnosed between 2005 to 2009 with a variety of different cancers, the risk of dying from those cancers within five years of diagnosis was 39 to 68 per cent lower than it was for people of the same age diagnosed in 1990 to 1994. This is a very significant change, which we can attribute to all the research that has been performed.

According to Dr. Wei Zheng, the study’s senior author from Vanderbilt University in Nashville “Pretty much all populations improved their cancer survival over time.”

His study was reported in JAMA Oncology. The study analyzed data from a national sample of more than 1 million people who were diagnosed with cancer of the colon or rectum, breast, prostate, lung, liver, pancreas or ovary between 1990 and 2010.

HOWEVER, the study also showed that the better odds of survival did not apply equally to all age and racial groups. They found that better survival rates tended to favor younger and Caucasian people.

For example, the risk of death fell by only 12 to 35 per cent for people diagnosed between ages 75 to 85. The study also found that there were racial disparities in certain situations. There was a small improvement in ovarian cancer survival among white women during the study period but survival among black women with ovarian cancer got worse.

Zheng said, “In general our study shows different segments benefit differently from recent advances in oncology…we need to find out the reason.”

The researchers went on to interpret the data and to speculate that older people may not benefit equally from medical advances because doctors may avoid aggressive care for them for fear they couldn’t tolerate treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.

What is even more important is that older people and racial minorities are less likely to be included in trials of new cancer treatments. Clearly, this supports the need for a significant effort on the part of researchers and pharmaceutical companies to make more effort to include these groups.

Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.