Cancer death rates in the UK have dropped by more than a fifth since the 1990s, according to new figures from a leading charity.
In 1990, the disease killed 220 out of every 100,000 people. By 2011 this figure had fallen by 22% to 170 per 100,000, said Cancer Research UK.
Improvements in disease prevention, surgical techniques, targeted radiotherapy and drug treatments were all said to have played a part in reducing the death toll.
The fall in death rates is despite rising numbers of cancer cases being diagnosed, largely because cancer is more common in an ageing population.
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Twenty years ago I was training to become a cancer specialist, excited by the findings we were making in the laboratory and desperate to see better ways for us to treat the disease in the clinic.
“We needed to give patients more options and better news about their future. I was impatient for more advances sooner and I still am. But clearly we’re moving in the right direction. I’ve personally seen in my clinics, incredible advances in cures for cancers like leukaemia and improvements in treatment options for prostate cancer.
“But no clinician, no researcher and no patient will be happy until we’ve driven down the death rate even further through research.”
The Cancer Research UK report shows that men are faring slightly better than women. During the decade between 1990 and 2011 cancer mortality for women fell by 20% from 185 to 147 per 100,000 and for men by 26% from 277 to 203 per 100,000.
The figures were released to mark the launch of the charity’s latest campaign to raise awareness of the importance of scientific research to beating cancer.
Ground-breaking science in the 1950s led to lung cancer death rates plummeting by 41% in the last 20 years, said the charity.
Today research promises to have a similar impact on bowel cancer. A 16-year trial funded by Cancer Research UK has shown how a one-off screening test for bowel cancer could cut deaths from the disease by 43% and potentially reduce new cases by a third.
Harpal Kumar, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The words ‘you have cancer’ are among the most devastating a patient can hear. And for far too long far too many people have had those words ringing in their ears as they leave the consulting room.
“Today cancer is not the death sentence people once believed it to be.
“As these new figures show, mortality rates from this much feared disease are dropping significantly as the fruits of research are producing more effective treatments with fewer side effects.
“But while we’re heading in the right direction, too many lives are still being lost to the disease, highlighting how much more work there is to do. Our aim is that one day everyone will beat cancer and the more research we can fund, the sooner that day will come.”
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