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National Cancer Survivors Day 2024 | University of Colorado Cancer Center

For Many Cancers, 5-Year Survival Rates at CU Cancer Center Exceed National Rates

At Colorado’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, ‘unique capabilities make an incredible difference.’

minute read

Written by Mark Harden on June 2, 2024

A key yardstick used to evaluate success in cancer treatment shows that for many cancers, a higher percentage of people diagnosed at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have survived five years or more beyond their diagnoses than for the nation as a whole.

This National Cancer Survivors Day, we want to recognize the survivors and highlight that the difference in five-year cancer survival rates is particularly pronounced for cancers of the esophagus, liver, pancreas, lungs, and stomach, which also are among the most challenging to successfully treat, according to data provided by UCHealth, the CU Cancer Center’s clinical partner.

As compared to national five-year cancer survival rates, the survival rates for patients diagnosed at UCHealth are 91% higher for cancers of the esophagus, 79% higher for liver cancer, 77.5% higher for pancreatic cancer, 67.4% higher for lung cancer, and 40.6% higher for cancers of the stomach.

Cancers we treat top Chart shows five-year survival rates for patients diagnosed at UCHealth facilities and national rates. 

“Seeing that our survival rates are higher is certainly a point of pride for the CU Cancer Center,” says Wells Messersmith, MD, the cancer center’s associate director of clinical services and division head of medical oncology in the CU School of Medicine. “There’s a whole bunch of factors that lead to improved cancer survival rates for patients, one of which is coming to the CU Cancer Center.”

Messersmith notes that the CU Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Colorado. “There are certain cancers where unique capabilities make an incredible difference, and we have the capabilities of a large, high-volume academic medical center.”

High-quality programs

There are also pronounced percentage differences in five-year survival rates for ovarian cancer (16.6% higher at UCHealth than the national rate), cervical cancer (11.3% higher), colon cancer (11% higher), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (9.6% higher), chronic myeloid leukemia (7.7% higher), rectal cancer (6.5% higher), multiple myeloma (6.5% higher), uterine cancer (5.7%), tongue cancer (4.9% higher) and breast cancer (4.7% higher), among others.

Learn more about cancers we treat at the CU Cancer Center

“We feel that we have very high-quality programs here that give excellent care,” Messersmith says. “To see that read out in actual survival rates is something we’re incredibly proud of, and it’s one of the biggest things that patients are concerned about. What they’re really interested in is beating the cancer. They want to survive more than five years.”

Behind the good news on survival rates, he says, are “all our quality efforts and all the recruiting we do to get top medical talent, and all the experience we have to build on. And we have our multidisciplinary clinics where you’re getting the input of 20 different people on your case. All of that is wrapped into it.”

Tomorrow’s treatments today

Five-year cancer survival means that a person who was diagnosed with a cancer is still alive five years later. It includes people who show no signs of cancer after concluding treatment. It also includes people who still have signs of cancer after five years but whose cancer is being managed through treatment.

Survival rates for any category of cancer may vary widely depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis, the patient’s overall health, and other factors. In general, diagnosis at an early cancer stage corresponds to higher five-year survival rates than for late-stage diagnoses.

D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, a CU Cancer Center member and a professor of medical oncology, helped launch the cancer center’s annual 5+ Years Lung Cancer Survivorship Celebration. He sees the CU Cancer Center’s many clinical trials as greatly contributing to its patients’ higher survival rates.

“We're trying to get access to tomorrow's treatments today. We’ve got 40% of our lung cancer patients on clinical trials, which is double the next best lung cancer program in the country and more than 10 times the national average. And that's not just because we throw trials at people. We try very hard to select the trials that are going to address unmet needs.”

→ Find a cancer clinical trial

There’s also “the fact that we tumor-type specialize,” Camidge says. “I’m not a general oncologist. I just treat lung cancer. My job is to stay up to date with developments in the field and to lead new developments.”

Expertise and expansion

As for liver cancer, Messersmith cites “our incredibly high-volume transplant program. That’s a curative therapy. You have a disease that normally has a terrible prognosis, and yet we’re curing people, and many of them can live for decades afterward.”

For pancreatic cancer, he says, “we have surgeons who can resect and repair arterial involvement by tumors. Very few places can do that. It’s a very specialized world, and I can’t tell you how many pancreatic cancer patients come to our surgeons after they were told elsewhere they were unresectable.”

And for cancers of the esophagus and stomach, the CU Cancer Center expanded its capacity in 2022 with the establishment of the Katy O. and Paul M. Rady Esophageal and Gastric Center of Excellence, which is advancing clinical trials and other research as well as screening and treatments.

"The center is laser focused on screening and surveillance strategies to detect precancerous conditions and early cancer so that we can collectively reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with these lethal cancers," says Sachin Wani, MD, executive director of the center.

Learn more about survivorship programs at the CU Cancer Center 

The data on five-year survival rates is for the CU Cancer Center’s clinical partner UCHealth as a whole, serving all of Colorado. The survival rates at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital are even higher due to the CU Cancer Center specialists who work at those locations.

The survival data was reported to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, an authoritative source for cancer statistics in the United States. The rates are for people diagnosed from 2012 to 2018, so at least five years has elapsed for all patients diagnosed in that period.

Camidge notes that the CU Cancer Center rates as reported to SEER do not include people who were diagnosed elsewhere and later received care at the CU Cancer Center. “They don’t take into account the people who come to see us from elsewhere after everything else has failed them, and then in many cases we can help them and they do great.”

Featured Experts
Staff Mention

Wells Messersmith, MD

Staff Mention

D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD

Staff Mention

Sachin Wani, MD