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Long-term survival from once-deadly cancers doubles

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

12 July 2010

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People diagnosed with breast, bowel and ovarian cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are today twice as likely to survive for at least 10 years as those diagnosed in the early 1970s according to new figures1 released by Cancer Research UK.

The percentage of women likely to survive breast cancer for at least 10 years has jumped from less than 40 per cent to 77 per cent while the proportion of people likely to survive bowel cancer has risen from 23 per cent to 50 per cent.

Twice as many patients with ovarian cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are likely to survive for at least 10 years with survival increasing from 18 to 35 per cent and from 22 to 51 per cent respectively. And for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 10-year survival is predicted to increase from less than 50 per cent to around 80 per cent.

There is also encouraging news for leukaemia with patients four times as likely to survive for 10 years compared with those diagnosed in the early 1970s.
And while 10-year survival is still low for oesophageal cancer and myeloma (both below 20 per cent) it is predicted to have trebled over the same period.

As Cancer Research UK launches its new national TV advertising campaign today the message is clear: much has been achieved in the fight against cancer but there is still more to do. The advertisement aims to improve awareness of cancer and to raise money for continuing research.

Claire Daniels is one of the cancer survivors who appear in the television ad. She was a student at Warwick University when she complained of excessive fatigue and weight loss before being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She returned to her parents’ home in Manchester where she was initially treated with chemotherapy at the Christie Hospital. But the cancer returned and Claire had further intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant after which she had to spend a month in an isolation ward.

Now 24, Claire, from Leamington Spa, works as an events’ organiser at Cancer Research UK in London. “In between treatments I organised some student balls to raise money for cancer and it really helped me to focus and detract from the illness,” she said. “I wanted to stand up in front of my peers and say: ‘Don’t think cancer is just a disease that happens to old people. A year ago I was a student partying just like you. I’m 19 but I’ve got cancer.’ That’s when I realised I’d like to organise events for a living.

“I feel very lucky that I was able to have such effective treatment – some of which was shaped by the charity’s researchers – and that’s why I was so pleased to be part of this campaign. Everyone who appears in the TV ad is either a cancer survivor or a cancer doctor; there aren’t any actors so we are all genuinely involved in fighting this disease.”

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “There are many reasons for our continuing success in the fight against cancer, including faster diagnosis, better surgery, more effective radiotherapy and many new drugs, all developed using the knowledge that our laboratory research has given us.

“We expect this trend to continue, hastened by Cancer Research UK’s investment in research in all these areas.”

In breast cancer, more personalised treatment is helping to increase survival and in bowel cancer improvements in surgery have had a very positive effect. Targeted treatments like imatinib and rituximab have clearly increased survival for some leukaemias and lymphomas. Better supportive care of patients being treated with strong drugs has also contributed to these encouraging results.

Professor Michel Coleman, head of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Survival Group, who calculated the figures, said: “These big increases in long-term survival since the 1970s reflect real progress in cancer diagnosis and treatment, and they confirm the immense value of having a National Cancer Registry that holds simple information about all cancer patients diagnosed during the last 30-40 years.

“Ten-year survival figures for patients diagnosed in 2007 are of course predictions, but they are derived from the latest national data on cancer patient survival – and for most cancers, the true 10-year survival for these patients will turn out to be higher than we report.”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “It is thanks to our supporters and the dedicated work of our doctors and scientists that we are seeing such encouraging improvements in long-term survival of many cancers.

“But we have to do better. We need to develop even more effective treatments that can prolong life further and we need to ensure that each individual patient has optimal treatment.

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