New report shows survival for blood cancers has increased more than any other cancer over 20 years

04 September 2019

Toronto -

A new report released today by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) shows the biggest increases in cancer survival since the early 1990s have been for blood cancers. The report – Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 – was developed by CCS, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial cancer registries.

The report showed that, over a 20-year period, progress in 5-year survival for the most common blood cancers outpaced all other cancers. While cancer survival overall has improved since the early 1990s from 55% to 63% – an increase of 8 percentage points – survival for the most common blood cancers has increased by 16 to 19 percentage points. The biggest increase in survival was for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (49% to 68%), followed by multiple myeloma (27% to 44%) and leukemia (43% to 59%). This progress is largely due to research that has led to improvements in precision medicine.

An estimated 21,000 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with blood cancer in 2019, representing about 10% of all cancer diagnoses. This includes people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (10,000), leukemia (6,700), multiple myeloma (3,300) and Hodgkin lymphoma (1,000). The causes of blood cancers are not well understood although the recent ComPARe study showed that excess weight and lack of physical activity could contribute to between 4-10% of some blood cancers, 22% of acute myeloid leukemia is due to tobacco smoking and 36% of Hodgkin lymphoma is due to Epstein-Barr virus. This year, an estimated 7,450 people in Canada are expected to die of a blood cancer.

“While we know more people are being diagnosed with cancer due to our aging and growing population, what we are seeing in terms of improvements in survival for blood cancers is remarkable,” explains Dr Leah Smith, Senior Manager of Surveillance, CCS. “Thanks to strategic investments in research and specifically precision medicine, a greater percentage of people with blood cancer are being treated more successfully. This has led to the improvements in survival we are seeing today, which far exceed the other major cancer types.”

Research resulting in advancements in precision medicine is taking cancer treatment to an entirely new and different level. Precision medicine determines treatments based on a person’s genes or other unique features of the cancer that the person has. It has led to significant progress in survival for blood cancers, which have responded well to the more precise and customized treatments. Over the last 15 years, CCS has invested almost $28 million in precision medicine research and $66 million in blood cancer research generally.

“Our goal is to improve the cancer experience by helping people live longer and enhancing their quality of life,” adds Smith. “We know that with further investments in precision medicine, we can continue to take significant steps towards achieving that goal. We want to expand the potential of precision medicine so that it has this type of dramatic and positive impact on survival rates for other cancer types too. We also want to continue to support people facing blood cancer through our programs that help people manage life with cancer, find community and connection and build wellness and resilience.”

David Mitchell was diagnosed with advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015. After several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, he was confident he was in full remission. But the cancer returned. In 2016, his doctor told him a stem cell transplant – a form of precision medicine where healthy stem cells from bone marrow are used to replace damaged cells – was his only chance of surviving.

“I was devastated to learn that the cancer had returned,” explains David. “Precision medicine like stem cell transplants is now an option for those of us where all the other conventional treatments have failed. It gives us hope. Thanks to the stem cell transplants I received, I will be here to watch my kids grow up.”

Further research and clinical trials are needed in Canada so that personalized treatments, like immunotherapy, can be used on more cancers with more success.

Nearly one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. In 2019 alone, an estimated 220,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer and 82,100 will die of cancer. But there has been progress overall that has increased 5-year survival to about 63%.

“Increases in cancer survival are a testament to the incredible research taking place across the country to improve diagnosis, treatment and care. While more people are surviving a cancer diagnosis than ever before, there is still work to be done to reduce the burden of cancer on Canadians,” says Smith. “That’s why we are continuing to raise funds and invest in the best research in the country in order to address this need and help more people live longer, healthier lives.”

Other key findings in the report
  • Lung cancer incidence and death rates have recently started to decrease in females, a reflection of the tremendous amount of work that has been invested in tobacco smoking prevention, cessation programs, education and advocacy
  • Female breast cancer death rates have decreased by an estimated 48% since they peaked in 1986 thanks to improvements in early detection and treatment
  • Pancreatic cancer – one of the most difficult cancers to treat – is expected to become the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in Canada in 2019, surpassing breast cancer and reflecting the need for further research in this field to improve early detection and treatment options
To learn more about cancer in Canada, visit cancer.ca/statistics and view the full report or read the backgrounder. To learn more about blood cancers, read the backgrounder.

About Canadian Cancer Statistics
Canadian Cancer Statistics is prepared through a partnership of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada in collaboration with the provincial and territorial cancer registries. The Public Health Agency of Canada completed all analyses related to projecting incidence and mortality, assessing trends over time and estimating the probability of developing and dying of cancer. Statistics Canada completed all analyses related to survival. The Canadian Cancer Society coordinates the production and dissemination of this publication and supports it with charitable funds. For more than 30 years, this publication has been providing information that helps decide what support and services are needed and what research should be done. It also helps assess the impact of prevention, early detection and treatment. For more information about Canadian Cancer Statistics, visit cancer.ca/statistics.

About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

For more information, please contact:

Catherine Kong
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Cancer Society
416-934-5366