Medical advances set to cut cancer deaths by a third

A vision for care: Experts foresee 'golden era' of preventive techniques and improved treatments
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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Scientists are predicting a cancer revolution over the next 25 years with deaths from the disease cut by at least a third, and more people with incurable tumours living longer, active lives.

In a report aimed at influencing future Government cancer policy, more than 30 leading scientists and doctors herald a "golden era" when the laboratory breakthroughs achieved since1980 will be translated into widespread clinical use.

Professor Karol Sikora, deputy director of clinical research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which compiled the report, said: "Gradually, we shall see more and more potential cancers being prevented or being identified when the patient has early, easily treated pre-cancerous changes in cells and this will have an enormous impact on deaths.

"For those who do develop cancer, we are now starting a new golden age of drug discovery ... Some of these new designer drugs are already in early trials, and we shall see many more such trials starting over the next 10 years."

Professor Sikora also predicted eventual genetic screening for every individual at age two to identify their cancer vulnerability in later life.

The report, Vision for Cancer 1995-2020, says that current trends suggest deaths from cancer will reach 220,000 by 2020, with an ageing population and no further improvements in prevention and cure.

However, this figure could be fall by at least a third, according to Dr Jack Cuzick, head of statistics at the ICRF. Lung cancer, currently accounting for 38,500 deaths annually, could be cut by 30 per cent as smoking decreases. Bowel cancer kills 20,000 people, but this could be cut by 40 per cent with improved screening. Preventive drugs given to women at high risk of breast cancer might stop 25 per cent of deaths, while screening, drug or hormone treatments could cut deaths in women who do develop the disease by up to a third. More than 15,000 women die from the disease annually.

A further10 per cent reduction in deaths is predicted from the planned reorganisation of cancer services, which aims to have all patients treated in specialist units by 2000. The report also predicts that the ability to tailor treatments to the genetic characteristics of tumours will improve cure rates, while new diagnostic techniques, using molecular genetics, will allow high-risk groups to be identified for preventive treatment.

Radiotherapy will become safer and more accurate using computers and multi-media imaging techniques to target cancers. Surgical treatments, which will increasingly rely on virtual reality systems and robotics, will aim to preserve cancerous organs where possible.

Dr Gerald Evans, an ICRF scientist, said that partnerships between the Department of Health, research organisations and drug companies were vital to "turn this vision into reality".

One in three people in Britain develops cancer at some time during his or her life. In 1992, there were 163,068 deaths. About 270,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.