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One in two will get cancer during lifetime by 2020, analysis shows

Disease poses ‘herculean’ challenge for NHS, warns cancer charity

Caroline White

Friday, 07 June 2013

By 2020 almost one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime, but almost four in 10 will survive, indicate new figures released today by Macmillan Cancer Support.

This will put huge pressure on the NHS and see a surge in demand for support services, warns the charity.

The new figures, which are based on an analysis of existing data, found that the proportion of people in the UK who will get cancer in their lifetime has increased by more than a third over the past 20 years.

In 1992, around one in three people (32%) who died that year had been diagnosed with the disease at some point in their life. By 2010, this had risen to more than four in 10 (44%). And the proportion will continue to rise to almost one in two (47%) 1 by 2020, the figures indicate.

Today, more than one in three (35%) of those people who have been diagnosed with cancer will now die from other causes—up from one in five (21%) 20 years ago. By 2020 this will improve further to almost four in 10 people (38%), says Macmillan.

In 1992, around 45,000 cancer patients died from other causes; by 2010 this increased to around 90,000. The most common causes of deaths from other causes are ischaemic heart and respiratory diseases (both 20%), and cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke (12%).

The rise in those diagnosed with cancer is due to overall improvement in life expectancy, while earlier diagnosis, advances in cancer treatments, and better cancer care are increasing the odds of survival, says the charity.

Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that gruelling treatments and the serious side effects of the disease mean that many cancer patients do not return to full health.

“That we live longer as a nation, and that we are improving cancer treatment, are things to celebrate,” comments Professor Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support.

“We do, however, need to add a serious note of caution: the more successful we are with treatment and cure, the more people we have living with the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment,” she says.

“People struggle with fatigue, pain, immobility, or an array of other troublesome side-effects. We need to manage these consequences for the sake of the patient, but also for the sake of the taxpayer. We should plan to have more services to help people stay well at home, rather than waiting until they need hospital treatment,” she suggests.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support, said the figures represented “a herculean challenge for the NHS and for society.”

He continued: “The NHS will not be able to cope with the huge increase in demand for cancer services without a fundamental shift towards proper aftercare, without more care delivered in the community, and without engaging cancer patients in their own health,” he warned.

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