Deadliest Cancers Coalition

What Are the Deadliest, or Recalcitrant, Cancers?

When the War on Cancer was declared in the early 1970s, the average five-year relative survival rate for all cancers was only approximately 50 percent. Thanks in large part to research funded by the National Institutes of Health, and in particular the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the average overall five-year survival rate is now approximately 69 percent. However, there are a number of cancers that still fall below 50 percent survival. These cancers are considered the "deadliest," or "recalcitrant," cancers.

This definition has been codified and is part of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012. This bill, which was signed into law on January 2, 2013, directs the NCI to develop scientific frameworks for the deadliest cancers, starting with pancreatic and lung cancers. These frameworks were introduced in March and June of 2014, respectively. The release of these scientific frameworks represents an important step forward. Other cancers that fall under this definition can be added at the NCI Director’s discretion. Read more about the legislation.

There are many sub‐types of cancers that fall under this definition. However, it is worth noting that half of the 595,690 cancer deaths in 2016 are estimated to be caused by eight site-specific forms of cancer with five-year relative survival rates of less than 50 percent.

  • Pancreas: 8%
  • Liver: 18%
  • Lung: 18%
  • Esophagus: 20%
  • Stomach: 30%
  • Myeloma: 49%
  • Brain: 35%
  • Ovary: 46%