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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Cancer survival rates rise
Early detection can improve survival rates
Improved screening and treatments mean that more people are surviving breast and prostate cancer, according to official figures.

Cancer: the facts
People suffering from these cancers, and colorectal cancer, are more likely to be alive five years after diagnosis.

But there was no good news for sufferers of the UK's biggest cancer killer, as survival rates actually dropped for lung cancer patients.
These figures are extremely encouraging news on both breast and prostate cancer

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research Campaign
The figures look at patients diagnosed between 1991 and 1993, and see how many of them are still alive five years later.

These can be compared to the five year survival figures for people diagnosed between 1986 and 1990.

Cancers are rarely referred to as "cured" by doctors - five (and 10) year survival rates being the most accurate benchmark to the success of treatment.

Five year survival for prostate cancer rose by almost 7% for all men diagnosed between 1991 and 1993.

In the 50 to 79 years age group, the rise was even more pronounced - between 7% and 9%.

New treatments are partly responsible for death rate cut
This is probably due to increased early detection of prostate cancers using a blood test which came into use in the early 1990s.

For women with breast cancer - which is the most common female cancer - five year survival rose by 6% overall - a rise which can be mainly attributed to the success of the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

All women aged between 50 and 64 are invited for regular mammograms. The upper age limit on screening is likely to be increased soon.

Better treatment

But improved treatment may also be contributing to better survival rates in breast cancer.

Dr Lesley Walker from the Cancer Research Campaign said: "These figures are extremely encouraging news on both breast and prostate cancer.
Cancer: Five Year Survival Rates
Prostate: up 7%
Breast: up 6%
Lung: down 1%
Colon: up 3% for men, up 1% for women
"We really are treating early breast cancer much better, using added hormone therapies or combinations of different chemotherapies - it's really making a difference."

Dr John Toy, Medical Director at Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "The fact that improvements can occur in just a few years is good news.

"These figures show that cancer research is working and we are now seeing a real return in our investment."

Cancers of the colon and rectum are the third most common in men, and the second in women.

In colon cancer, five year survival rates improved by 3% for men and 1% for women, while 4% more women were alive five years after diagnosis with rectal cancer, compared to 2% more men.

Lung cancer remains the most common cancer in men - and survival rates are poor, with only one in 20 patients alive five years after diagnosis.

Five year survival for this disease actually fell by almost 1% in the new figures.

Statisticians say this may be due to the fact that doctors are more accurately recording cases in which patients die very soon after the cancer is spotted.

Dr Walker said: "The figures for lung cancer just go to show how difficult it is to treat.

"It emphasises the crucial importance of prevention - encouraging people not to smoke - and the need for more research into treatments."

The government has pledged to cut cancer deaths by 20% in the under 75s by the year 2010 - a total of 100,000 up to that point.

A report in this week's British Medical Journal suggested that the current trend of advances in medical treatment would leave the government on target to save more than 24,000 of those lives.

Professor Mike Richards
"Confident of improved survival rates"
Professor Carol Sikora, Hammersmith Hospital
"What we need is proper investment"
See also:

04 Jan 00 | Health
04 Feb 00 | Health
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