Cancer death rates fall by almost a quarter over 20 years in the North East

New figures released from Cancer Research UK show that less people are dying from breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers

Lynne Harding, of Blyth, Northumberland, who successfully beat breast cancer
Lynne Harding, of Blyth, Northumberland, who successfully beat breast cancer

Cancer death rates have fallen by almost a quarter in the North East in the last 20 years thanks to improved screening and treatment.

New figures released today from Cancer Research UK show that less people are dying from breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers.

Breast cancer scientists have been responsible for improving detection of the disease through screening, developing more specialist care and more effective treatments, such as improved surgery, radiotherapy and drugs like tamoxifen and, more recently, anastrozole and letrozole.

Twenty years ago, around 15,000 people in the UK died of breast cancer every year compared with 11,600 now.

Mother-of-two Lynn Harding, 57, of Blyth, Northumberland, was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago and given the “all clear” five years later.

The partner in a beauty salon said: “It is very reassuring to know that cancer death rates have fallen. In the past the word ‘cancer’ used to be seen as a death sentence, but that’s not the case anymore.

“Since I had breast cancer I’ve seen big changes in attitudes towards the condition and people are checking themselves more as they’re aware of the symptoms and what to look out for.

“Treatments into cancer have come on leaps and bounds and that’s wonderful.”

Nationally death rates in the UK for breast cancer have fallen by 38%, bowel cancer by 34%, lung cancer by 27% and prostate cancer by 21%.

Health experts say research has meant fewer bowel cancer patients are losing their lives to the disease thanks to improved early detection and the development of better treatments. Today almost 3,000 fewer people-a-year in the UK die from bowel cancer compared to 20 years ago. The recent introduction of bowel cancer screening is likely to further reduce mortality rates by ensuring more patients are diagnosed earlier.

Research first revealed the deadly link between smoking and lung cancer 60 years ago. This led to falling smoking rates and an overall decline in mortality rates from the disease. There are now more than 3,000 fewer lung cancer deaths in the UK than two decades ago. But as smoking rates began to fall later in women than in men, death rates have actually risen in women.

There has also been little improvement in the outlook for those that are diagnosed with the disease so Cancer Research UK has made it a priority to stem lung cancer mortality through earlier diagnosis and trials for improved treatments.

Advances in treatment - including surgery, hormone therapy, and radiotherapy - as well as earlier diagnosis, are thought to have contributed to the trend of reduced prostate cancer death rates.

But not all cancer death rates have dropped. Mortality rates in liver, pancreatic, melanoma, oral and some digestive cancers have all increased.

Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for the North East, said: “The latest figures highlight the good news that research continues to save lives from cancer and offer hope that this progress will continue.

“But while the death rate for the four biggest cancer killers falls, it’s vital to remember that we need to do more to help bring even better results over the coming years.

“There are over 200 different forms of the disease. For some of these, the advances are less impressive, such as pancreatic, oesophageal and liver cancer. Far too many lives continue to be affected by the disease.

“We’re determined that the research we fund will help save more lives through developing better, kinder treatments which will help cure cancer faster. It’s not just technology or knowledge that we need to win our fight against cancer – it’s funding.”

Survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years. Today, half those diagnosed with cancer survive the disease for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that three quarters will survive cancer within the next 20 years.

Cancer Research UK is calling on everyone to join the fight. There are many ways to get involved, whether it’s making a regular donation, taking goods to a local Cancer Research UK shop, returning sponsorship money raised through Race for Life or signing up to March On Cancer this October.

The charity has launched its inspiring ‘We Will Beat Cancer Sooner’ campaign with a powerful TV advert rallying everyone in the North East to join the fight against the disease now.


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