The Long-run Impact of New Medical Ideas on Cancer Survival and Mortality

Frank R. Lichtenberg

NBER Working Paper No. 25328
Issued in December 2018
NBER Program(s):Program on the Economics of Aging, Program on the Development of the American Economy, Health Care Program, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

I investigate whether the types of cancer (breast, colon, lung, etc.) subject to greater penetration of new ideas had larger subsequent survival gains and mortality reductions, controlling for changing incidence. I use the MEDLINE/PubMED database, which contains more than 23 million references to journal articles published in 5400 leading biomedical journals, to construct longitudinal measures of the penetration of new medical ideas.

The 5-year survival rate is strongly positively related to the novelty of ideas in articles published 12-24 years earlier. This finding is consistent with evidence from case studies that it takes a long time for research evidence to reach clinical practice. The estimates suggest that about 70% of the 1994-2008 increase in the 5-year observed survival rate for all cancer sites combined may have been due to the increase in the novelty of medical ideas 12-24 years earlier.

The number of years of potential life lost from cancer before ages 80 and 70 are inversely related to the novelty of ideas in articles published 12-24 years earlier, conditional on incidence. The increase in medical idea novelty was estimated to have caused a 38% decline in the premature (before age 80) cancer mortality rate 12-24 years later.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25328

Published: "The long-run impact of new medical ideas on cancer survival and mortality," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, December 2018

NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us