The tipping point? Half of people now survive cancer diagnosis

New research shows, for the first time, half of patients live for at least 10 years after diagnosis

Health Reporter

Half of all people diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales today will survive the disease, Britain’s leading research charity has said, in a landmark announcement which experts have hailed as a “tipping point” in the global fight against cancer.

Using the largest and most up-to-date set of statistics on cancer treatment and survival available anywhere in the world, Cancer Research UK have been able to estimate that 50 per cent of patients who were diagnosed in 2010-11 will survive for 10 years – effectively meaning that they have been cured.who

Announcing their findings, which are derived from an analysis of survival trends involving more than seven million cancer patients diagnosed between 1971 and 2011 in England and Wales, Cancer Research UK said that by the 2030s, it was realistic to hope that as many as three in every four cancer patients would survive 10 years after diagnosis.

In the 1970s, the 10-year survival rate was as low as one in four In the 1970s, the 10-year survival rate was as low as one in four

In the 1970s, the 10-year survival rate was as low as one in four, but a combination of improved therapies and drugs, earlier diagnosis and a reduction in the smoking rate have contributed to huge improvements in outcomes, with some types of cancer now nearing 100 per cent survival.

Dr Harpal Kumar, the charity’s chief executive, said that the past 20 years had seen an “explosion” in our understanding of the disease.

“We know more about cancer than we ever have before…the knowledge that we have gained in the past 20 years puts us in a fantastic position, not just to continue the progress we’ve made, but to accelerate it…” he said. “In 20 years’ time, we want three quarters of the people who hear those words: ‘you’ve got cancer’, to also hear the words: ‘but don’t worry you’ll be fine’. We firmly believe that’s achievable.”

Survival rates for nearly all cancers are improving every year. In the past 40 years, the 10-year survival rate for breast cancer has increased from 40 per cent to 78 per cent; for malignant melanoma from 46 to 89 per cent; and for testicular cancer from 69 to 98 per cent, according to research carried out for the charity by a team working under Professor Michel Coleman at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

However, the prospects for other types of cancer – in particular pancreatic and lung cancer – remain poor around the world. Survival rates in England and Wales, along with the rest of the UK, lag behind comparable countries in western Europe – largely because of delays in diagnosis of hard-to-spot cancers.

Dr Kumar said that, while the 50 per cent statistic was a major milestone, there was “a huge amount” of work still to do.

“We don’t want to celebrate the fact that only 50 per cent of patients are surviving their cancer,” he said. “In the UK that means around 160,000 people a year still don’t survive for 10 years or more, and across the world around eight million people.”

Charity runner Tony Phoenix-Morrison at the London Marathon this year. Cancer Research UK aims to boost its annual £350m spending on cures by 50 per cent over the next five to 10 years Charity runner Tony Phoenix-Morrison at the London Marathon this year. Cancer Research UK aims to boost its annual £350m spending on cures by 50 per cent over the next five to 10 years (PA)

The charity is seeking to increase its £350 million annual spend on cancer research by 50 per cent over the next five to 10 years, Dr Kumar said. Research will particularly target new means of diagnosing and treating those cancers with stubbornly low survival rates. Pancreatic cancer has a 10-year survival rate of just one per cent, and is the only cancer for which death rates are still rising in Europe for both men and women.

And despite dramatic falls in the number of smokers since the 1970s, lung cancer death rates are still rising among women and for all patients 10-year survival is only five per cent. 

But prospects for ever-improving survival rates, even in the most hard-to-treat cancers, were given a major boost earlier this month as Cancer Research UK announced a ground-breaking drug trial which aims to identify “personalised” cancer drugs for lung cancers. The trial, the first of its kind, builds on the “genetic revolution” in cancer science, and a new understanding of the extent to which the genetic makeup of different people’s cancer tumours can vary, requiring a broader range of more targeted drug treatments.

“As little as 20 years ago people were talking about a single magic bullet for cancer,” Dr Kumar said. “This notion that there would be one type of treatment that would be beneficial across all types of cancer [has been] put to bed, that isn’t ever going to be the case.”

Professor Coleman said that 10-year survival in the vast majority of cases meant that the disease had been beaten.

“As a whole the patients who survive that long no longer have any different chances of surviving than the rest of the population,” he said.

“The idea of cancer as a death sentence is gradually evaporating in this country, thank goodness,” he added. “It is still considered a death sentence in many countries around the world, to the extent that people given a diagnosis will not seek treatment because they accept with fatalism that they are going to die… that is the kind of perception, the kind of myth… that data like this can counter.”

Late diagnosis was among the key reasons for poor survival rates in some cancers, he said, particularly those for which symptoms are non-specific, such as persistent cough in the case of lung cancer, a sore throat for oesophageal cancer, or a headache for brain tumours.

Delays in patients visiting their GP, in GPs diagnosing cancers and in referrals to treatment have all been identified as causes for the UK’s comparatively poor performance on cancer. However Professor Coleman said it was wrong to solely blame GPs who he said were seeing between six and eight cases of cancer out of thousands of patient contacts every year. 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride