US President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971, declaring a "war on cancer," says Katherine Harmon at Scientific American's Observations blog. In the 40 years since, NCI has spent about $90 billion on research and treatment, and national estimates show that the cost of treating cancer in the US in 2010 was a hefty $125 billion. As treatments become more and more targeted and individualized, some of them also become more expensive, Harmon says. The good news is that as researchers continue to study cancer's biology — using new techniques and technologies to identify subtypes of the disease and new pathways for treatment — cancer mortality rates are declining. The bad news is, the total number of new cancer cases is on the rise, climbing to more than 1.5 million in 2010 compared to 1.3 million in 2005, Harmon says. The disease has also become widespread, making "serious inroads into other countries that have far fewer resources to manage it," she adds. In countries with few doctors and even fewer cancer specialists, even forms of cancer that are treatable and have high survival rates in the US will claim many more lives than they do here, adds Science's Martin Enserink.
Mar 25, 2011