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Top four cancer killer rates ‘fall by a third’

Published on 18/08/14 at 09:57am
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Death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer combined have fallen by almost a third in the last 20 years according to the new figures from Cancer Research UK.

Death rates for breast cancer have fallen by 38%, bowel cancer by 34%, lung cancer by 27% and prostate cancer by 21 per cent.

CRUK, a public/pharma funded charity that conducts some R&D in the area, says that the figures during this period “highlight how research has had a powerful impact in beating cancer”.

Between 1991 and 1993, 146 people out of every 100,000 could have expected to die from one of the so-called ‘big four’ cancers, but by 2010 to 2012 these figures dipped to 102 out of every 100,000.

In breast cancer, CRUK’s report found that scientists have been responsible for improving detection of the disease through screening, developing more specialist care and more effective treatments. Around 15,000 died of the disease 20 years ago compared with 11,600 now, its figures show.

Research has also meant fewer bowel cancer patients are losing their lives to the disease thanks to improved early detection, and the development of better treatments.

Today, almost 3,000 fewer people a year die from bowel cancer than 20 years ago. The recent introduction of bowel cancer screening is likely to further reduce mortality rates by ensuring more patients are diagnosed earlier, CRUK says.

But, the charity warns, the lung cancer story is ‘double-edged’. Research first revealed the deadly link between smoking and lung cancer 60 years ago, and this led to falling smoking rates and an overall decline in mortality rates from the disease.

There are now more than 3,000 fewer lung cancer deaths than 20 years ago – but as smoking rates began to fall later in women than with men, death rates have actually risen in women.

There has also been little improvement in the outlook for those that are diagnosed with the disease, so Cancer Research UK has made it a priority to curtail lung cancer mortality through earlier diagnosis and trials for improved treatments.

Improvements in treatment – including surgery, hormone therapy, and radiotherapy – as well as earlier diagnosis, are thought to have contributed to the trend of reduced prostate cancer death rates.

In a statement CRUK says: “The drop in death rates is not the only good news. Cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years. Today, half those diagnosed with cancer survive the disease for at least 10 years.

“Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that three-quarters will survive cancer within the next 20 years.”

Many forms of the disease

But not all cancer death rates have dropped and the charity warns against complacency, as mortality rates in liver, pancreatic, melanoma, oral and some digestive cancers have all increased.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Research continues to help save lives from cancer, and these figures offer renewed encouragement that progress continues. The UK remains a world leader in cancer research, responsible for many of the breakthroughs that have reduced the impact of cancer.

“But while the death rate for the four biggest cancer killers falls, it’s vital to remember that more needs to be done to help bring even better results over the coming years.

“There are over 200 different forms of the disease. For some of these, the advances are less impressive, such as pancreatic, oesophageal and liver cancer. Far too many lives continue to be affected by the disease. We’re determined that the research we fund will help save more lives, developing better, kinder treatments which will beat cancer sooner.”

Ben Adams

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