Healthy living

Increase in cancer survival rates

Increase in cancer survival rates Median survival more than 10 years for six cancers

People with cancer now live nearly six times longer after being diagnosed than they did 40 years ago, according to a new report.

A new analysis by MacMillan Cancer Research shows that the overall median survival time for cancer has increased from one year for patients diagnosed in 1971 to 5.8 years for patients diagnosed in 2007.

Cancer survival is usually measured as the number of people to reach one, five or ten years after diagnosis. However, the charity has calculated the median survival time - the time it takes for half the patients to die from the time of diagnosis - for individual cancers as it says this gives people a clearer idea of how long they might live after being diagnosed.

Six cancers now have median survival times of more than 10 years. Colon cancer survival has improved more than 17-fold, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 10-fold and cancer of the rectum seven-fold. Since the 1990s, the median survival time for breast cancer has been more than 10 years.

For 11 out of the 20 cancers studied, the median survival time is now predicted to be over five years.

However, for nine cancers, the median survival time is still three years or less, the figures show.

There has been little improvement in cancers of the lung, brain and pancreas in the past 40 years, the charity said.

Ciarán Devane, Macmillan Cancer Support's chief executive, said: "This research is a huge breakthrough in seeing the real picture of how long people are living after a cancer diagnosis.

"But the good news is tempered by the shocking variation between cancer types. Though we can celebrate increasing median survival times for some cancers such as breast and colon cancers, there has been lamentably poor progress made for lung and pancreatic cancer."

He also added that many survivors can face health problems after their cancer treatment.

He said: "Cancer treatment is the toughest fight many will ever face and patients are often left with long-term health and emotional problems long after their treatment has ended.

"For instance, of those colorectal cancer patients still alive between five and seven years after their diagnosis, two thirds (64%) will have an ongoing health problem.

"After treatment ends, many patients feel abandoned by the NHS as they struggle to cope with the long-term effects of cancer treatment. The NHS really needs to recognise cancer’s long-term impact on people’s lives, to plan better services and to develop more personalised care."

This article was published on Tue 22 November 2011

Image © Alexander Raths -

Related Stories

Use this story

Link to this page
Printer friendly version

Share this page