Here’s Why Only 2% of Cancer Patients Survive 5 Years After Chemo
Chemo is usually the first thing the doctors recommend when patients are diagnosed with cancer. However, there is a small ratio of chemo survivors. The problem is not the chemo itself, but the overall process of recovery. There is a reason why only 2 % of these patients survive 5 years and why others die too early.
The cost of cancer drugs which have been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) may simply prove unaffordable for some families. And no wonder, since a yearly average has been estimated to be $171,000.
But what’s even more disconcerting is that only a few of these have a proven positive effect.
Which of course leads Americans to ask the question why. Yet despite all of the research done on cancer, real and legitimate answers are still lacking, leaving the patients with much to be desired.
The Drug Approval Done by The FDA
Drug companies are obliged to first test any new potential drug on animals subjects before they can move on to testing it on humans.
This is in order to test its safety and efficiency. In the case that the testing done on animals yields positive results, the next logical step is to see whether it has the same positive effect on human test subjects.
Such an effect could be, for example, extending the life expectancy of cancer.
Before a drug company can sell its new drug on the market, it is first required that it sends their test results to the FDA so they can be reviewed. This happens through the CDER (Center for Drug Evaluation and Research).
Its job is to make sure that the brand name and generic drugs work as they should and that there aren’t any serious health risks involved. But this center can only test the effectiveness and quality of the drug, meaning it does not do any drugs tests.
Due to the professional team composed of chemists, physicians, pharmacologists and statisticians the CDER offers, the results have a high chance of being completely unbiased. And if the CDER has approved the drug, then so does the FDA, making it safe for selling.
But Just How Effective is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is most often used together with other treatments for cancer. An Australian research team wanted to know just how useful chemo is on its own, particularly when it comes to the patient’s survival rate.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the chances of surviving 5 years after only undergoing chemo, they were rather small. They took this data from USA and Australia from the years 1990-2004.
When one compares it to Australia’s 60% survival chances, when it comes to just chemo, it is a staggeringly low 2%.
However, it should be noted that the results varied depending on the type of cancer in question, as well as which stage it was in. As an example, with stomach cancer, the survival rate was only 1%, while in the case of testicular cancer an astounding difference of 41.8%!
The reason for this lies in the fact that some types of cancer react more easily to chemo than others.
Additionally, Hodgkin’s disease, cervix, and ovary, testis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are the five cancers most sensitive to chemo. And with these five, the survival rate of 5 years solely due to cytotoxic chemotherapy was 14% back in 1998.
Conclusion? There are instances where chemotherapy can be effective by itself. This especially when it comes to the chemo-sensitive cancers. However, those only accounted for 8.4% of the incidence back in 1998 in Australia.
It’s Not Like There’s a Shortage of Chemo Side-Effects
Whether on a physical or emotional level, it’s a fact that chemotherapy has its fair share of difficulties and side effects.
Some of these may go away just as soon as the treatment is finished, but others may very well last as long as months, years, or for the remainder of the patient’s life.
Here is a list of all the complications that may occur:
Constipation or Diarrhea
Nausea and Vomiting
Changes in appetite
Changes on your skin and nails (such as pigmentation or excess dryness)
Easy bleeding and bruising
Damage to healthy cells (especially in the gut, reproductive system, mouth, hair follicles and bone marrow)
Kidney issues and changes in urine
Fertility issues and lowered libido
Issues in your mouth, tongue or throat (such as sores or difficulty swallowing)
Muscle and nerve issues (pain, tingling, and numbness)
What’s surprising is that, according to Dr. Jones, those who refuse to undergo chemotherapy live on an average 12 and a half years longer. In fact, individuals who have decided for chemotherapy usually die within just three years of diagnosis.
And what’s more depressing is that a huge number dies only after a few weeks.
FDA and Its Approval of Cancer Drugs
In spite of the FDA’s approval of potential chemotherapy or cancer drugs, its officials don’t seem to have anything against the lack of current evidence when it comes to survival improvement.
Dr. Richard Pazdur, the director of FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence, stated that cancers could grow at both slow and quick rates.
Thus, because of the varied speeds of growth, it takes more time for some studies to find out whether a specific drug improves the chances of longer survival.
But the reason behind the rushed approval without knowing too much information on a drug, is largely because the FDA wants the patients to benefit from them and have them at their disposal as soon as possible.
But Dr. Jones also explained that newer and more directed treatments could extend the lives of patients by years instead of just months! For example, there’s immunotherapy, which, as its name suggests, stimulates the immune systems of cancer patients.
This is in order to achieve natural combatting of cancer cells. A positive example of this is that, in patients with advanced melanoma, these immunotherapy drugs have contributed to the increase of survival chances from 5% to as much as 30-40%!
And although, when one looks at the big picture, something like this might not seem so significant, the senior vice president and chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Richard Schilsky says that there is no undermining the progress made so far.
There has been quite the commotion concerning these immunotherapy drugs, and not without good reason either.
Here’s Some Statistics for You
For metastasized cancers, chemotherapy is almost always the first option. But it is not rare either for other treatments to be used in combination with it. If one chooses to undergo chemotherapy by itself, there are certain factors that one needs to take into consideration
The stage the cancer is in, the type of cancer, each individual’s health status. But also any past medical history, among other things.
Cancer Journal for Clinicians had published a detailed review on June 2016 concerning the recent studies on cancer therapies and survival statistics across the USA.
They took this data for analyzing from two sources: The SEER Program and the NCDB (the National Cancer Data Base).
Most worth noting is the data on comparing specific cancer types, and also the various methods and combinations used for treatment.
Particularly in the case of breast cancer, there is a reported improvement in survival rates.
It is thanks to a few factors: chemotherapy, targeted drugs, and hormone therapy, but also thanks to the increased awareness which leads to earlier detection and the widespread use of mammography.
Because of these, there has been an improvement in the last three decades when it comes to the general five-year survival rate for female breast cancer patients.
For the sake of being more specific, the five-year, ten-year and fifteen-year breast cancer survival rates are 89%, 83%, and 78%, respectively.
Quality of Life is Also Important for Cancer Survivors
As of the first of January, 2016 the United States has had over 15 ½ million cancer survivors. Quite the number, eh? And according to research, there are predictions that by 2026 the US will have had over 20 million.
One of the main objectives of the American Cancer Society’s Facts and Figures (2016-2017) is to make sure cancer patients have a high-quality life during and after their treatment.
But when we start considering just what a high-quality life is, there are many things to keep in mind:
Psychological (or emotional) health
But of course, the quality of life can vary from person to person, and there is no universal definition about it. Instead, we can offer you these statistics for comparison:
Because of physical issues, about 25% of those who survived cancer reported a lowered quality of life
It’s the same thing with 10% others, with the difference being in emotional issues.
Cancer survivors for over 5 years have reported having an emotional health similar to those who have never had cancer
Many cancer survivors for over 5 years have reported a lowered physical health when compared to those who have never had cancer
Generally, those who have gone through more aggressive and invasive therapies and treatments report a lowered quality of life overall
Even though the FDA can sometimes approve certain chemotherapy drugs which prove ineffective in the long run, they also make sure to remove the one from the market whose side effects overshadow the benefits.
And in some situations, the patients aren’t so much upset over the side effects of the drugs. Rather, they are more upset at the little extra time they are given (usually months).
But there is some hope in all this after all. Immunotherapy is slowly rising in power as an effective targeted drug with promising potential for the future.
And as medicine and technology also move forward, while not necessarily curing cancer, these new and improved drugs may very well lengthen the lives of patients to a great extent, as well as assuring more quality living.
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