Half a million lives saved in 30 years thanks to cancer research

Cancer Research UK

Research has been responsible for saving nearly 520,000 lives since the 1980s according to new Cancer Research UK figures released today (Tuesday).

And the number of cancer deaths prevented is estimated to double to one million by the end of this decade.

The new figures are released as Cancer Research UK launches its “Beat Cancer Sooner” campaign which is urging the public to collectively take one million actions against cancer.

Statisticians compared the actual number of lives lost to cancer with the number that would have been expected if death rates had remained constant from when the rate peaked in the 1980s*.

More men than women die from the disease and this gender difference is reflected in the number of cancer deaths which have been prevented - more than 352,000 among men and more than 166,000 among women.

Research has led to an improved understanding of the biology and causes of cancer. This in turn has led to discovering better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease - all helping to save lives.

Some of the landmark advances in treatment include tamoxifen for breast cancer, cisplatin for testicular cancer – both things Cancer Research UK researchers played key roles in. And many deaths have been prevented thanks to the national cancer screening programmes, and to the drop in smoking rates due to better awareness and changes to tobacco legislation – all informed by Cancer Research UK studies.

As the advances accelerate, researchers are already laying the foundations for the next generation of cancer treatments that will save millions of lives worldwide. These include personalised medicine where patients will have treatment tailored to their cancer, immunotherapy which harnesses the immune system to target cancer, better radiotherapy and improved surgery.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Significant progress has been made in improving the outcome for cancer patients, but we’re not done yet. These encouraging figures highlight the reduction we’ve seen in the number of people dying from cancer since the 1980s. Our world class researchers have led the way in pioneering discoveries that lead to better ways of treating cancer patients whether through improved surgical techniques, state of the art radiotherapy or dynamic new drugs.

“I run trials using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer – this was science fiction in the 1980s.  Over the coming decades we will see these improvements snowball as research delivers more tools into the hands of doctors to beat cancer.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “It’s not widely realised that all our research is funded through the generosity of the public.  It is thanks to their donations, large and small, that we have been able to make such good progress.

“But there is still much more to be done. It’s no mean feat to help save a million lives from cancer. But we want to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured and to continue that progress we need everyone’s help.”

The charity is calling on everyone to help beat cancer sooner by collectively taking a million actions against cancer over the next six weeks. From signing up to an event or sharing cancer signs and symptoms information to becoming a Citizen Scientist and classifying cells, there are lots of ways to get involved.

To find out more about Cancer Research UK’s campaign encouraging people across the UK to take one million actions to ‘Beat Cancer Sooner’, visit www.cruk.org/1millionactions.

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

* The number of avoided cancer deaths is estimated by comparing the actual number of deaths observed  with the expected number of deaths that would have occurred if the peak mortality rates had remained constant at their peak levels (for men in 1984 and for women in 1989)

The expected number of cancer deaths is calculated by applying the five-year age-specific cancer death rates in the peak year for age-standardised cancer death rates for males and females to the age-specific populations in the each year up to 2010. This is the number of expected deaths in each year if mortality rates had not decreased and remained at peak levels. The observed number of deaths is the actual number of deaths that have occurred. The difference between the number of expected and observed deaths in each age group and year for males and females is then summed to obtain the total number of cancer deaths avoided since the peak in age-standardised mortality rates.

The age-standardised mortality rate for males in the UK was 286.3 in 1984. This has fallen to 201.6 in 2010.

The age-standardised mortality rate for females in the UK was 187.9 in 1989. This has fallen to 146.8 in 2010.