More than a million lives have been saved over the last four decades in the UK due to advances in cancer care, analysis from Cancer Research UK has shown.
Since the mid-1980s, UK cancer deaths have fallen by around a quarter, but if the rates had remained the same more than 1.2 million people would have died from the disease, the charity said.
Advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including radiotherapy improvements, cancer screening programmes, measures to prevent the onset of cancer, drug developments and gene discoveries, have all contributed to the decrease.
However, cancer deaths are still the prime cause of death in the UK, the charity said.
Advances have not been equal across all cancers, with more cancer deaths prevented in men compared to women – partly due to an earlier drop in smoking rates seen among men.
Since the mid-1980s, 560,000 lung cancer deaths have been prevented, mainly due to reductions in smoking.
While 236,000 stomach cancer deaths have been avoided, linked to the rarity of the H Pylori infection, and 224,000 bowel cancer deaths have been prevented, partly due to chemotherapy administered to patients making tumours easier to remove.
17,000 breast cancer deaths have been averted, largely linked to the introduction of breast screening programmes and drug developments.
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‘Golden era for cancer research’
Professor Jean Abraham, who leads the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme at the University of Cambridge, described the “incredible progress” in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
She said: “This is a golden era for cancer research.
“In my own field of personalising breast cancer treatments, we’re now able to complete genome sequencing from the lab to the clinic in a matter of days, when 10 years ago it would have taken months.”
‘Long waiting times’
Despite the incredible progress, Cancer Research UK has pointed out “long waiting times” as a worrying situation for cancer patients which were leaving them “facing fear and uncertainty”.
The number of people waiting to start routine hospital treatment in England reached a new record high as 7.6 million people were on waiting lists at the end of June, up from 7.5 million in May, NHS data revealed.
It is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
The NHS said strikes have had a considerable impact on elective appointments and procedures, with about 778,000 hospital appointments rescheduled.