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Cancer Trials Save Millions of Years of Life

People diagnosed with cancer gained 3.34 million years of life thanks to cancer clinical trials run by SWOG and supported with public funds, according to a new study published in JAMA Oncology. The dollar return on investment from federal funding, the study showed, was estimated to be just $125 for each life year gained.


SWOG is a cancer clinical trials network funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the federal government’s leading cancer research agency.


“The NCI’s investment in SWOG and our network has resulted in a significant benefit to the American public,” said SWOG biostatistician Joseph Unger, PhD, who led the research.  “A lot of people with cancer have lived longer because of the therapies tested in our publicly funded trials. At the same time, the cost of this research is relatively low. So with high impact and low cost, it’s a great value for taxpayers.”


“This collection of data combining years of research shows a dramatic extension of life gained by participation in, or as a result of, clinical trials,” said Jeff Abrams, MD, associate director of NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program. “This provides a new metric for assessing the value of publicly supported cancer research.”


In 2016, SWOG celebrated its 60th anniversary as part of the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network and NCI Community Oncology Research Program. SWOG treatment and prevention trials have enrolled more than 200,000 patient volunteers, and led to the approval of 14 new cancer drugs and more than 100 changes to the standards of cancer care.


“Time is the most priceless gift we have, and the ability to give people with cancer more time with their loved ones is a major achievement,” said SWOG Group Chair Charles Blanke, MD. “To put the numbers in context, the most conservative estimate of 2 million years is the equivalent of giving about three extra years of life to every one of the estimated 600,000 Americans expected to die of cancer this year. This is an exceptional benefit to come out of federally funded cancer research.”


This article was adapted from information provided by SWOG.