The chance of dying from cancer before the age of 84 is becoming much smaller for most types of cancer and should continue falling over the next 20 years according to a new study from Cancer Research UK.

The study, published today in the British Journal of Cancer*, looked at the rates of people dying from 21 of the most common types of cancer. It predicts a decline of 17 per cent in men and 16 per cent in women between 2003 and 2023.

The researchers used past trends in death rates between 1970 and 2005 to project what cancer death rates are likely to be in the next 20 years.

Breast cancer – the most common cancer in the UK – has had the most significant fall in deaths since 1988 even though the number of people diagnosed has been increasing. The number of men dying from prostate cancer has also seen a drop of one per cent a year, despite the numbers being diagnosed rising by four per cent a year.

The researchers believe the reasons for the fall are early detection, better cancer treatments and a drop in the number of people smoking.

Professor Peter Sasieni, epidemiologist and study author said: “There are two reasons why we have seen a fall in cancer death rates. Firstly, the chance of developing cancer is getting lower as a result of lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking and better food hygiene. Secondly, more people are surviving cancer because, thanks to research, there are better treatments and more effective national screening programmes. And we’re predicting that the fall in cancer deaths rates will continue in the next twenty years.”

“Our study provides a benchmark against which we can measure the effect of new screening programmes and cancer treatments.”

The researchers also predicted a rise in a few types of cancers including liver cancer in men.

The authors found that whilst the death rates are going down overall, the ageing population and increasing incidence for some cancers means that overall there will be more cancer deaths in 2025 than there were in 2005.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK said: “We’ve already seen the impact of research in delivering cancer prevention, early detection and improved treatments.

“The projections for the next 20 years are really encouraging as they suggest a continuing decline in cancer death rates. The researchers have assumed that current trends will continue. However, we hope that with new developments, the drop in the risk of dying from cancer by 2025 will be even more dramatic.”

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*Cancer mortality in the United Kingdom: projections to the year 2025. Peter Sasieni et al. advanced online publication Tuesday 14 October 2008. British Journal of Cancer

British Journal of Cancer

The BJC is owned by Cancer Research UK. Its mission is to encourage communication of the very best cancer research from laboratories and clinics in all countries. Broad coverage, its editorial independence and consistent high standards have made BJC one of the world’s premier general cancer journals.

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