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Drop in death rates for four most common cancers

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Death rates for four cancers that account for half of all cancer deaths in the UK have fallen by almost a third since the early 1990s, new figures show.

Over the last two decades the combined death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer have fallen by 30%, according to data from Cancer Research UK.

Between 1991 and 1993, 146 people out of every 100,000 could have expected to die from one of these four cancers but by 2010 to 2012 these figures dipped to 102 out of every 100,000.

“It’s vital to remember that more needs to be done to help bring even better results over the coming years”

Harpal Kumar

The cancer charity said that the figures show that research has had a “powerful impact” on the fight against the disease.

For breast cancer, the death rate fell by 38% during this time frame while bowel cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer dipped by 34%, 27% and 21%, respectively.

There has been improved detection of breast cancer through routine screening and experts have developed more specialist care and effective treatments, the charity said.

There has also been improvements in early detection and the development of treatments for patients with bowel cancer. And the recent introduction of bowel cancer screening is likely to further reduce mortality rates even further, Cancer Research UK said.

Improvements in treatment as well as earlier diagnosis are thought to have contributed to the reduction in prostate cancer deaths.

While death rates in lung cancer have fallen, the charity warned that there has little improvement in the outlook for those who are diagnosed with the disease. It has pledged to improve lung cancer mortality through earlier diagnosis and trials for improved treatments.

Mortality rates in other cancers, including liver, pancreatic, melanoma, oral and some digestive cancers, have increased, the charity said.


UKEuropean age-standardised mortality rates (per 100,000)Annual average number of deaths
1991-19932010-2012Percentage change1991-19932010-2012
Top 4 combined145.5102.4-29.681,810           73,412
Lung (person)52.238.1-26.938,42335,144
Breast (female)38.924.3-37.515,05511,629
Bowel (person)24.516.3-33.718,82715,855
Prostate (male)29.823.6-20.89,50510,784


“Research continues to help save lives from cancer, and these figures offer renewed encouragement that progress continues,” said Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Harpal Kumar.

Harpal Kumar

Harpal Kumar

“The UK remains a world leader in cancer research.

“But while the death rate for the four biggest cancer killers falls, it’s vital to remember that more needs to be done to help bring even better results over the coming years,” he added.

“There are over 200 different forms of the disease. For some of these, the advances are less impressive, such as pancreatic, oesophageal and liver cancer,” he said. “Far too many lives continue to be affected by the disease.”


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