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Forum for Health Economics & Policy

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Quantifying Gains in the War on Cancer Due to Improved Treatment and Earlier Detection

Seth A. Seabury
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Southern California – Department of Emergency Medicine and Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, 635 Downey Way Verna & Peter Dauterive Hall (VPD), 2nd Floor Los Angeles CA 90089-3333, USA
  • Email:
/ Dana P. Goldman
  • University of Southern California – Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, Los Angeles, CA, USA
/ Charu N. Gupta
  • The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – Health Care Management Department, PA, USA
/ Zeba M. Khan
  • Celgene Corporation, Summit, New Jersey, USA
/ Amitabh Chandra
  • Harvard University – John F. Kennedy School of Government, Boston, MA, USA
/ Tomas J. Philipson
  • University of Chicago – Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Policy Studies, Chicago, IL, USA
/ Darius N. Lakdawalla
  • University of Southern California – Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Published Online: 2015-11-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/fhep-2015-0028


Introduction: There have been significant improvements in both treatment and screening efforts for many types of cancer over the past decade. However, the effect of these advancements on the survival of cancer patients is unknown, and many question the value of both new treatments and screening efforts.

Methods: This study uses a retrospective analysis of SEER Registry data to quantify reductions in mortality rates for cancer patients diagnosed between 1997 and 2007. Using variation in trends in mortality rates by stage of diagnosis across cancer types, we use logistic regression to decompose separate survival gains into those attributable to advances in treatment versus advances in detection. We estimate the gains in survival due to gains in both treatment and detection overall and separately for 15 of the most common cancer types.

Results: We estimate that 3-year cancer-related mortality of cancer patients fell 16.7% from 1997 to 2007. Overall, advances in treatment reduced mortality rates by approximately 12.2% while advances in early detection reduced mortality rates by 4.5%. The relative importance of treatment and detection varied across cancer types. Improvements in detection were most important for thyroid, prostate and kidney cancer. Improvements in treatment were most important for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, lung cancer and myeloma.

Conclusion: Both improved treatment options and better early detection have led to significant survival gains for cancer patients diagnosed from 1997 to 2007, generating considerable social value over this time period.

This article offers supplementary material which is provided at the end of the article.

Keywords: cancer; cancer screening; cancer treatment; medical innovation


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About the article

Corresponding author: Seth A. Seabury, University of Southern California – Department of Emergency Medicine and Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, 635 Downey Way Verna & Peter Dauterive Hall (VPD), 2nd Floor Los Angeles CA 90089-3333, USA, Phone: +(310) 623-2025, e-mail:

Published Online: 2015-11-18

Published in Print: 2016-06-01

Citation Information: Forum for Health Economics and Policy, ISSN (Online) 1558-9544, ISSN (Print) 2194-6191, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/fhep-2015-0028. Export Citation

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