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Cancer deaths plummet in middle-aged patients, but challenges remain warns charity

Cancer Research UK found a sharp decrease in cancer deaths over a 25 year period, but warned that cancer cases are still on the rise overall

Fewer middle-aged people are dying from cancer in the UK than at any point over the last 25 years, according to a new study by the Cancer Research UK, a leading charity in cancer research.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal showed that overall, mortality rates had dropped by 37% in men and by 33% in women. 

‘This research is a useful benchmarking tool for the next 25 years and beyond so that we can take action to save more lives from cancer. We must continue to prevent as many cancer cases as possible, diagnose cancers sooner and develop kinder treatments,’ said Jon Shelton, Cancer Research UK’s head of cancer intelligence and lead author of the study.

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In examining data for 23 cancer groups or types, it found that cervical cancer mortality rates decreased by 54.3%. The charity said that was because the widespread take-up of the HPV jab and improved screening had helped ‘prevent cancer and stop the disease in its tracks.’

Lung cancer mortality rates decreased by 53.2% in men and by 20.7% in women, which the charity linked to reduced smoking rates in recent decades. 

However, while the study showed the progress in treating cancer, Shelton warned that it also exposed ‘where challenges clearly remain’.

The study found the number of cancer diagnoses in middle-aged people rose by 57% among men and by 48% among women. The largest average annual percentage increases over time for cancer incidence rates for men aged 35-69 years were for cancers of the liver (4.7%) and prostate (4.2%). For women, the largest average annual percentage increases in incidence rates were noted for liver (3.9%) and melanoma skin (3.5%) cancers.

‘With cancer cases and mortality for some sites on the rise and improvements in survival slowing, it’s vital that the UK Government takes bold action to keep the momentum up,’ said Shelton. ‘Now is the time to go further and faster, building on the successes of decades of research and improvements in healthcare.’

Responding to the report, Steve Russell, the director of vaccination and screening at NHS England said: ‘The NHS is determined to build on these improvements, so we are working hard to achieve our ambitions of seeing 55,000 more people each year surviving their cancer for five years or longer by 2028 and three-quarters of people with cancer being diagnosed at an early stage by 2028.’