NEW YORK – The arrival of new medical ideas played a major role in the long-run increase in US cancer survival rates according to research by Columbia Business School Professor Frank Lichtenberg. The study found that the 5-year survival rate of certain types of cancers, including breast, colon, lung, pancreas and skin cancers saw significant drops in mortality rates as a result of the introduction of ideas in articles published 12–24 years earlier. This is the first study to find a correlation between U.S. cancer survival rates and the timeframe in which medical ideas are introduced.
“We’re now able to measure the effect the introduction of new ideas on different types of cancer has had and will have on the survival and mortality rates of these diseases in the long term,” says Lichtenberg. “When there are newer ideas around a type of cancer, we should see greater improvements in survival mortality for that particular type of cancer.”
Professor Lichtenberg used article descriptors in the MEDLINE/PubMED database, which contains more than 23 million references to journal articles published since 1946, to test the influence of new medical ideas that applied to most types of cancer. The study found that between 1994 and 2008, the 5-year survival rate for all cancers observed saw a combined increase from 52.1 percent to 61.2 percent.
Roughly 70 percent of this increase may have been due to a parallel increase in the introduction of new medical ideas appearing in articles a decade and a half to two decades earlier. As a result, the study found the largest mortality declines per increase of new medical ideas were found with lung and bronchus cancer, followed by breast and colon cancers, respectively. The study also suggests that the reduction of biomedical innovation through budget cuts to research or price controls on pharmaceuticals would not have an immediate impact on cancer survival in the near-term, but would have worse long-term effects on cancer survivability in decades to come.
Lichtenberg’s study also reinforces previous research that finds that longevity is a very important part of economic growth. For decades the consensus among macroeconomists has been that GDP growth is the primary indicator of economic growth. But Lichtenberg’s research takes a different angle at this theory to provide evidence that human development and longevity through the introduction of new drugs, devices and procedures also has a part to play.
“Longevity growth or in this case, an increase in life expectancy is as an important form of economic growth as GDP growth,” says Lichtenberg. “For example, a baby born in 2000 has a 30-year longer life expectancy than a baby in 1900 and as a result, people are valuing an increase in longevity a lot more. People are willing to pay more to live longer.”
According to Lichtenberg’s research, the increase in survival rate is conditional on the number of patients diagnosed 1-10 years before and their age at the time of diagnosis. The increase in descriptor novelty or new medical ideas, was estimated to have caused a 38 percent decline in the premature (before age 80) cancer mortality rate in the 12-24 year timeframe.
“If someone comes up with a new idea today, it won’t necessarily reduce cancer mortality today or even ten years from now,” says Lichtenberg. “It takes a long time for new ideas to go from ‘lab bench to bedside’ in order for them to have an impact on survival.”
To read the study, click here: The Long-Run Impact of New Medical Ideas on Cancer Survivability and Mortality.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Frank R. Lichtenberg is Cain Brothers & Company Professor of Healthcare Management in the Faculty of Business Economics at the Columbia University Graduate School...Read more.