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Major boost in cancer survival rate

A breast cancer scan29/04/14

By Richard Halifax

A study has revealed that half of newly-diagnosed cancer patients in England and Wales will survive at least 10 years.

Since the 1970s, cancer survival rates have changed so radically that it is time to rethink approaches to the disease, according to experts.

Many patients are now no more at risk of early death than members of the general population.

Just 40 years ago, 25% of those diagnosed with cancer lived for another 10 years, showing the leaps that diagnosis and treatment have made in recent times.

Important tipping point

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK - which announced the new findings, said: "It's not very long ago that cancer used to be thought of as a death sentence.

"The reason this 50% figure is an important tipping point is it's saying that, actually, now half of all patients will survive at least 10 years after a diagnosis and for many it will be very much longer than that.

"I think that does represent a change in the way we should be thinking about cancer."

Dr Kumar added that the five-year yardstick for survival, traditionally used in cancer treatment when assessing outcomes, needs rethinking with more optimism.

"Up until now the predominant metric we've used to look at survival of cancer has been the number of patients or proportion of patients who survive five years or more after diagnosis," he told journalists at Cancer Research UK's headquarters in London.

"With the progress that's been made over the last few decades we think it's time now to shift the narrative and to change the language we use and start thinking about 10-year survival from cancer."

Improvements in survival

The research analysed data on more than seven million patients diagnosed with cancer since 1971, and it showed spectacular improvements in survival for some cancers.

Rates of 10-year survival for testicular cancer had jumped from 69% to 98%, and for malignant skin cancer from 46% to 89%.

Women with breast cancer now have a 78% chance of surviving at least a decade, compared with just 40% in 1971. 

But it was not all good news. The outlook remained bleaker for patients with the deadliest forms of cancer - such as those affecting the lung, oesophagus, pancreas and brain.

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