U.S. gains in war on cancer while other nations struggle

U.S. gains in war on cancer while other nations struggle

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, there’s some good news on the health care front. Cancer mortality rates are declining in the United States, according to a recent report from the National Cancer Institute.

Sadly, patients in other countries may not be so lucky. Though the United States has a higher incidence of cancer, other wealthy nations report worse outcomes in terms of recovery and survival.

This points to the effectiveness of American health care and reveals the flaws in other nations’ health care systems.
The report found that overall mortality for a majority of the most common cancers declined between 2014 and 2018. Compared to other types of cancer, U.S. death rates from melanoma and lung cancer declined fastest.

Much of the downward trend is a function of new drugs. New treatments for the most common type of lung cancer have greatly improved chances of survival. For melanoma, there has been an increase in diagnoses – but nonetheless, an accelerated decline in deaths. The Food and Drug Administration approved the first immune checkpoint inhibitor to treat melanoma in 2011. Within two years, scientists recorded major declines in death rates.

Patients in countries with government-run, single-payer or universal coverage systems – like Canada and the United Kingdom – don’t have the same level of access to cutting-edge medicines as Americans. Between 2011 and 2019, Americans had access to 96% of all new oncology drugs. Britons had access to only 71%, and Canadians only 59%.

Then there are the differences in waits. In Britain, the state-run National Health Service’s official goal is to make sure 85% of cancer patients with an urgent referral from their general practitioner are treated within two months. It hasn’t hit this mark since 2014.

In the United States, by contrast, the average wait time until treatment for cancer patients is about six weeks.

The impact of fewer drugs and longer waits for care in Britain is reflected in the health outcomes data for cancer patients. In England, the overall cancer mortality rate in 2018 was 266 per 100,000 people – 68% higher than the U.S. mortality rate of 158.3 per 100,000 people.

These are the well-known results of centrally planned health care systems. When the government runs – and pays for – just about everything, bureaucrats and algorithms decide who deserves treatment. And some patients don’t make the cut.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO at the Pacific Research Institute.

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