UK ‘golden era’ of cancer treatment has saved 1 million lives, study shows

Posted: 1st September 2023

Cancer Research analysis shows Britain is ‘beating cancer’ but strain on NHS could derail progress

More than a million lives have been saved thanks to a “golden era” of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment in the UK, with death rates plunging by a quarter, according to a study.

The Cancer Research UK analysis suggests major advances in tackling the disease over the last four decades have prevented 1.2 million deaths.

However, progress has not been equal across all cancers, and women have not reaped as many of the benefits as men. The “enormous strain” on the NHS also threatens to derail further progress, the charity said.

“Thanks to research and progress, a huge number of people in the last 40 years have reached milestones in their lives they didn’t think they’d see and had more invaluable time with their loved ones,” said Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive.

“The fact that over a million lives have been saved from cancer in this time reflects the power of research. Discoveries into more effective and kinder treatments, improvements to screening programmes, and strategies to help detect and prevent cancer have all been essential to this.”

While the analysis showed the UK was “beating cancer”, Mitchell said there was still cause for concern. “Despite these hard-fought gains, the situation for people affected by cancer across the UK remains worrying. Long waiting times are leaving many people facing fear and uncertainty.

“Cancer is a fixable problem – with continued investment in cancer research, strong political leadership, and the continued support of the public, we can build upon the fantastic progress from the last 40 years.”

Since the mid-1980s, UK cancer death rates have fallen by about a quarter. If the rates had stayed the same 1.2 million more lives would have been lost to cancer, the study showed.

Progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment have all contributed to the reduction in cancer deaths. This included improvements in radiotherapy, screening programmes, prevention policies, drug developments and gene discoveries.

Alan Sugden, 75, who joined a trial testing a new treatment for bowel cancer after his diagnosis in 2008, is among those who have benefited.

Before surgery, patients would receive chemotherapy, and again afterwards. This differed from the typical standard of care treatment, which normally only included chemotherapy after an operation.

“Having chemotherapy before my operation helped shrink my tumour, which made it easier for the surgeon to remove,” said Sugden. “In the years since my cancer was treated, I’ve been able to reach milestones and make memories that I wasn’t sure would be possible when I was first diagnosed.

“I have managed to get back on the golf course, becoming captain of my local club in 2019. It has been a joy to see my grandchildren born and grow up, with the eldest now 11, and to be able to carry on working part-time.”

Prof Jean Abraham, of the University of Cambridge, said the UK had benefited from a “golden era” in research since the 1980s. “We’ve seen incredible progress in the way that we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

“In my own field of personalising breast cancer treatments, we’re now able to complete genome sequencing from the lab to the clinic in a matter of days, when 10 years ago it would have taken months.

“But for all the progress we’ve made there is so much more about cancer that we don’t know. That is why it’s crucial that we continue pioneering cancer research to save more lives.”

Source: UK ‘golden era’ of cancer treatment has saved 1 million lives, study shows | Cancer research | The Guardian

Categories: Health News