For many years cancer charities have used a 1 in 3 figure for cancer rates. But the figures have been recalculated – and the bad news is that the situation is getting worse.
This is mainly due to the general trend of people living longer. But, more positively, improvements in diagnosis and treatment mean survival rates from some cancers are increasing, too.
“Survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years, and this is one of the success stories of modern medicine,” said Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager.
The one in three figure, which has been used for a decade, is based on research into every death in the UK in 1999. This showed that 220,000 people – some 35% of the 630,000 total deaths – had previously been found to have the disease.
Macmillan Cancer Support has revised the figure after researchers analysed official data for 2008. Of the 585,000 people who died in the UK, 246,000 – 42% of the total – had been diagnosed with cancer at some point.
The total number number of Britons alive who have or have had cancer at some point has recently been increased from 1.5 million to 2 million, and it will continue to rise.
“These figures highlight the increasing impact that cancer can have on so many of our lives,” said Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
Increasing rates of cancer provide yet another challenge for a health system that is already facing increased demands in many areas at a time of public sector cuts.
Macmillan Cancer Support says there is a need for more services to help people stay well at home, rather than waiting until they require emergency hospital treatment. Preventative medicine can be expensive – but it can save money in the long term.
Research efforts continue to find the medical holy grail – a cure for cancer. But until then the heartbreak will continue for the many people who will suffer from this horrible disease.