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Cancer deaths will drop by 400,000 in next 20 years

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by Cancer Research UK | News

20 December 2016

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Four hundred thousand fewer people will die from cancer over the next 20 years thanks to advances in research, according to figures* released by Cancer Research UK.

“Today, at this very moment, thousands of our world class scientists and doctors are working at laboratory benches and directly with patients, trying to discover the cancer treatments of tomorrow.” Sir Harpal Kumar

This equates to a 15 per cent drop in the overall cancer death rate.

For every 100,000 people in the UK, 331 died from cancer in 2014. But by 2035 this number is predicted to drop to 280 per 100,000 people.

This decrease is largely due to improvements in detection, diagnosis and treatments. Without these advances in research, cancer death rates would have continued to rise.

These figures are announced as Cancer Research UK highlights the personal impact of cancer in its latest “Right Now” campaign. A series of films showing patients going through treatment or being told test results will be broadcast over the coming weeks.

The campaign recorded patients, their families, friends and the dedicated hospital staff and researchers at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It aims to show that research is happening right now to develop better ways to diagnose and treat cancer to improve survival.

Ann Palmer, 64, a grandmother from Newcastle was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2016. She celebrated the end of her treatment by ringing a bell at the hospital where she was treated features in a video in the “Right Now” campaign. Ann now has no sign of cancer and is recovering well.

She said: “I can’t explain the wash of emotion I felt when I rang the bell and people started clapping. It felt like an acknowledgment of what we were all going through together. It was important to me and very powerful. That final radiotherapy treatment marked the end of my physical journey, but I didn’t start my emotional journey until I rang the bell.

“Now I feel so blessed to have received such exceptional care from the NHS. No amount of money could have given me better treatment, and it was delivered with compassion, kindness and respect.”

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “There’s nothing more frightening than the moment someone finds out they have cancer. Our campaign highlights the huge emotional and physical impact that those words have on a patient and their friends and family.

“The good news is that we’re making progress and more people are surviving the disease than ever before. But we still need to much get better at diagnosing and treating all cancers. We won’t stop until I can say to every single patient that no matter what type of cancer they’ve got, thanks to research, we can help them beat their illness.”

In the last few decades, researchers have developed a better understanding of how cancer grows and spreads which has helped them come up with better ways to diagnose cancer, and new treatments to fight the disease.

On the good news front bowel cancer death rates are predicted to fall by 23 per cent over the next 20 years to 25 deaths per 100,000 people from 32 per 100,000 – because of advances in surgery and chemotherapy treatments, and better screening. Cancer Research UK helped fund the trial that showed the bowel scope test could prevent a third of bowel cancers in people who are screened, and detect the disease earlier.

But there is still too much variation in death rates for different kinds of cancer.

In both pancreatic and brain cancer progress has not been good enough. Only three in 100 people survive pancreatic cancer for five years or more and this has remained the same for the last few decades. Without more investment and research into the disease, survival is unlikely to improve in the coming years.

Similarly, deaths from brain cancer are predicted to remain static over the next 20 years with around one in five surviving the disease for five years.

These hard-to-treat cancers – pancreatic, lung, oesophageal cancers and brain tumours – are a priority for Cancer Research UK and the charity has increased investment in these areas to carry out vital research to help save lives. 

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Today, at this very moment, thousands of our world class scientists and doctors are working at laboratory benches and directly with patients, trying to discover the cancer treatments of tomorrow.

“Thanks to research fewer people will die from cancer in the future. We’re resolute that, by 2034, three in four people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years. This will mean making more progress in breast, bowel and blood cancers, but also accelerating our effort in those cancers which are currently hard to treat.

“We’ve increased our research investment in those cancer types where survival remains stubbornly low. And we’re thinking bigger. Right now, we’re engaging the finest minds across the globe to answer the most challenging questions in cancer research.

“It’s thanks to the generosity of the public that we’re able to fund innovative, exciting research like this that is saving lives now and will save more lives in the future.”