Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now

Dramatic drop in deaths from most common cancers

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

10 July 2009

0 comments 0 comments

The death toll from three of the UK’s most common cancers has dropped to its lowest level for almost 40 years* – according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK today.

Mortality rates for breast, bowel, and male lung cancer** are at their lowest since 1971 even though more than 100,000 people are now diagnosed with these kinds of cancers every year.

Breast cancer deaths peaked in 1989 with 15,625 women dying from the disease. The latest figures for 2007 show that figure has dropped to 11,990 which is equivalent to a drop in mortality rates of 36 per cent.

Bowel cancer deaths peaked in 1992 with 19,598 men and women dying from the disease. In 2007 16,007 died – equivalent to a drop in mortality rates of 31 per cent.

And the number of men dying from lung cancer peaked in 1979 at 30,391 but dropped to 19,637 in 2007 – a drop in mortality rates of 53 per cent.

Although more people are getting cancer because the population is living longer, Cancer Research UK believes that fewer are dying from the disease because new and better treatments and screening are making a real difference. And deaths from lung cancer have been falling as more people give up smoking.

While the new figures show that great progress is being made in the battle to beat cancer, there is still much more to be done. And that is the theme of the charity’s new national TV advertising campaign launching on Sunday July 12th to improve awareness of the disease and to raise money for further research.

Appearing in the TV advertisement is Audrey Williams – a 50 year old artist and mother of two from Streatham in London who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002.

“I just feel so lucky to be here,” she said. “I want everyone to know that more and more people are surviving cancer thanks to the work being done by Cancer Research UK. I found a lump in my breast when I was having a shower. After a mastectomy I had reconstruction but my body rejected the implants. It was a difficult time but I think it helps to stay cheerful and to try and keep your sense of humour to get through.

“The important thing about the TV advertisement is that we aren’t actors; we are all real people who have gone through cancer and we can reach out to others and tell anyone who is worrying about symptoms to make that trip to the doctor because if they do have cancer the chances of surviving it are greater than ever.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Years of research are behind the dramatic progress being made in the fight against Britain’s common cancers. Survival rates have doubled in the last thirty years and the work of Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of that progress.

“Our research is behind 19 of the top 20 drugs used to treat cancer patients worldwide today. Our work has underpinned the huge progress we are now seeing in preventing more deaths from lung cancer. And our progress over decades has helped to develop radiotherapy as a major form of treatment for half of all cancer patients.

“But research is expensive and – because we rely completely on donations from the public – we can only continue this vital work with people’s support.”

Scientists at Cancer Research UK have been responsible for vital discoveries in the quest to understand how cancer develops and how best to treat the disease.

Cancer Research UK funded large trials that proved the benefits of tamoxifen for breast cancer patients and other trials have shown how to prevent the disease in high risk post-menopausal women. In 1995, the charity showed that two X-rays were better than one in detecting more breast cancers and reducing recall rates. This contributed to a widespread change in clinical practice with two-view mammography now used by all the national screening centres.

The charity’s laboratory work is behind many life-saving drugs, such as Herceptin, which has given hope to thousands of women with a particular type of breast cancer. Early work on aromatase inhibitors paved the way for anastrozole, a new gold standard of care for the most common type of breast cancer.

Cancer Research UK scientists contributed to key trials of the drug capecitabine, used to treat both bowel and breast cancer. And they showed that Taxol is an effective treatment for breast cancer; it is now also used for advanced lung cancer.

Cancer Research UK has also made a series of breakthroughs pinpointing new regions of the genome linked to breast, bowel, prostate, lung and brain cancer as well as funding more than 100 clinical trials in the UK at any time.

The charity’s chief scientist, Professor Sir David Lane, discovered the p53 protein which is faulty in many cancers and this paved the way for many treatments being tested in clinical trials today.

Cancer Research UK scientists helped to develop the drug cisplatin and later discovered carboplatin which has fewer side effects than cisplatin and is widely used in treating ovarian, lung and head and neck cancers.

Temozolomide, now used worldwide to treat the most common form of brain cancer, is another drug discovered in the charity’s laboratories and developed through early clinical trials.


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300, or the duty press officer on 07050 264059.