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UK progress in cancer survival slows

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UK progress in cancer survival slows

Progress in UK cancer survival is now slower than it has been for 50 years, according to a new report.

The study, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, warned the UK lags behind comparable countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark and Norway in tackling the disease.

This is against a backdrop of rising cancer cases, with the charity warning cases in the UK will rise by a fifth to around 506,000 by 2038/2040.

The study, published on Friday, found cancer waiting times across the country are amongst the worst on record, too many cancers are diagnosed at a late stage and access to treatment is unequal.

To tackle the problem, Cancer Research UK said a National Cancer Council for England must be set up to bring down waits and to a 10-year strategy launched for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Figures show that cancer remains the leading cause of death in the UK, causing 25% of all deaths.

Ten-year survival for all cancers combined has doubled since the early 1970s, but progress has slowed over the last decade in particular.

The report, written by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, showed how there was a sharp rise in cancer survival rates for a period starting in the early 1970s, with the proportion of patients expected to survive for 10 years or more jumping from 24% in 1971/72 to 48% by 2010/11.

But since then, rate of improvement has slowed, climbing just two percentage points to 50% in 2018 – meaning survival was increasing three to five times faster in previous decades than since 2010.

The report said the UK’s poor outcomes when compared to other countries are likely due to the speed at which people are diagnosed and access to optimal treatments.

“Research also suggests differences in policy between countries may also explain some of this international variation,” it said.

“Countries with consistent cancer policies have seen the greatest improvements in cancer survival between 1995 and 2014.”

Around four in 10 cancer cases in the UK are preventable, with these cases driven by smoking, obesity, sun exposure, alcohol intake, poor diets and lack of exercise, the report went on.

Across the UK, lung, bowel, melanoma skin and breast cancers account for almost two-thirds (63%) of all preventable cancer cases.

When it comes to treatment for the disease, monthly data shows cancer targets continue to be missed across the NHS in England.

Some 71.9% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer in November 2023 were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days, below the target of 75%.

In addition, the proportion of patients waiting longer than 62 days in November from an urgent suspected cancer referral or consultant upgrade to their first definitive treatment for cancer was 65.2%. This is well below the 85% target.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Cancer survival in the UK is at the highest point it’s ever been, which shows that together, we’re making progress on beating cancer.

“It’s worrying that the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years though, and cancer patients today face anxious and historically long waits for tests and treatments.

“Almost one in two people across the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. The number of new cases each year is growing.

“Beating cancer requires real political leadership and must be a priority for all political parties ahead of a General Election.”

Jon Shelton, head of cancer intelligence at Cancer Research UK, said cancer death rates are falling but there are many areas for improvement.

He added: “People are waiting far too long for diagnosis and to start treatment, with cancer waiting time targets consistently being missed. And we need to prevent more cancers.”

Cancer Research UK has estimated that by the end of the next decade, there will be a funding gap of over £1 billion for research into cancer.

The report comes after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that cancer cases in the UK will rise 37% to 624,582 by 2050.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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