Progress on cancer survival in UK at slowest in 50 years, study finds | Cancer

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Progress on cancer survival in the UK has slowed to its lowest rate in 50 years, a report has found, with experts blaming the impact of austerity on the nation’s health.

The study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, projects there will be half a million new cancer cases each year in the UK by 2040.

The report says nearly half of all patients (49.8%) now survive cancer for at least 10 years. But the rate of progress in improving prognosis slowed markedly after 2010, rising by an average of 0.6% a year between 2011 and 2018. In previous decades, 10-year survival rose by 1.5%-2.7% a year.

Figures from WHO’s cancer arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, have suggested global cancer cases will rise by more than 75% by 2050 due to a combination of factors including tobacco use, alcohol consumption and obesity.

Mark Lawler, a professor of digital health at Queen’s University Belfast and the chair of Lancet Oncology’s European Groundshot cancer commission, said the slow improvement in 10-year cancer survival as detailed in Cancer Research UK’s study made for startling reading.

“Good health and austerity do not mix, leading to less resources being focused on cancer prevention and treatment. And the bad news is it’s not going to get any better soon, as the impact of Covid and national lockdowns has set back survival for certain cancers like bowel by almost a decade,” he said.

“Inexplicably, this is the very time that the government has moved away from a national cancer strategy to a major conditions strategy, going against international best practice.”

John Ashton, a former president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said public health budgets meant cancer prevention was increasingly difficult.

“The agenda for preventing cancer is about smoking cessation, healthy weight, less alcohol and a healthy diet. Public health teams don’t really have the resource to get upstream of the prevention side of cancer. [Coupled with pressures on GP practices and the wider NHS] the picture is gloomy from a prevention point of view, from an early intervention point of view and from a treatment point of view.”

Jon Shelton, the head of cancer intelligence at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer survival is not improving quickly enough. 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.

“Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death, which is why we are calling on all MPs to support the upcoming age of sale legislation which could help stop the next generation from ever becoming addicted and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.”

IARC’s global cancer observatory, which covers 185 countries and 36 types of cancer, shows that 10 types of cancer accounted for about two-thirds of new cases and deaths globally in 2022.

It predicts that the global burden of cancer will rise from 14.1m new cases and 8.2m deaths worldwide in 2012 to 20m new cases and 9.7m deaths a decade later.

The IARC predicts there will be more than 35m new cancer cases by 2050, an increase of 77% from 2022 levels, and that deaths will have nearly doubled since 2012 to more than 18m.

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide, accounting for 12.4% of new cases and 18.7% of deaths. In the UK, Cancer Research said more lung cancer screening in all four nations could prevent about 1,900 lung cancer deaths a year.

Despite many people having given up, smoking is still the leading cause of cancer, causing 150 cancer cases in the UK every day, the charity said.

Dr Cary Adams, the head of the Union for International Cancer Control, said: “Despite the progress that has been made in the early detection of cancers and the treatment and care of cancer patients, significant disparities in cancer treatment outcomes exist not only between high- and low-income regions of the world, but also within countries.

“Where someone lives should not determine whether they live. Tools exist to enable governments to prioritise cancer care and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality services. This is not just a resource issue but a matter of political will.”