Leading article: Context is crucial

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The Independent Online

Macmillan Cancer Support yesterday presented the alarming projection that four in 10 people in the UK will get cancer at some point in their lives, up from one in three a decade ago. But this statistic requires some context. The increased cancer rate is mainly a consequence of increased longevity in the population. Older people are simply more likely to develop cancer. Up to the age of 50, the risk is only one in 36 for men and one in 21 for women. And conditions such as prostate cancer are not necessarily lethal. Survival rates have doubled since the 1960s thanks to better screening and earlier diagnosis. In 2008 around 89,000 who had been diagnosed with cancer died from other causes.

The rising cancer rate certainly poses a challenge. As Ciaran Devane, the chief executive of Macmillan, pointed out yesterday, the number of people living with cancer is likely to double to four million over the next two decades. More treatment will be needed and that will have to be paid for. But like the expenditure challenge posed by the rising demand for elderly social care, it is a challenge we should be pleased to be presented with, given the alternative.