Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 10:08 UK

Breast cancer deaths record low

Breast examination
Breast cancer deaths have fallen below 12,000 for the first time

The number of women dying from breast cancer has fallen to a record low by dipping under 12,000 a year for the first time since records began.

The Cancer Research UK data showed that 11,990 women died in the UK in 2007.

The previous lowest figure had been recorded in 1971 - the year records began - after which it rose steadily year-on-year until the late 1980s.

The figures come despite rising rates of diagnoses with experts saying better care and screening is saving lives.

'Crucial role'

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "It's incredibly encouraging to see fewer women dying from breast cancer now than at any time in the last 40 years, despite breast cancer being diagnosed more often.

"Research has played a crucial role in this progress leading to improved treatments and better management for women with the disease.

"The introduction of the NHS breast screening programme has also contributed as women are more likely to survive the earlier cancer is diagnosed."

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK with 45,500 women every year diagnosed with the disease - a 50% rise in 25 years.

The number of deaths peaked in 1989, when 15,625 women died. It then fell by between 200 and 400 deaths each year until 2004.

There was a slight rise in 2005 and then two years of falls.

Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "It is great news that fewer women are dying from breast cancer and highlights the impact of improved treatments, breast screening and awareness of the disease.

"However, this is still too many women and incidence of the disease is increasing year-on-year."

The rising rate of breast cancer diagnosis has been put down to a variety of factors including obesity and alcohol consumption.

Health Minister Ann Keen said the fall showed government policies were having an impact.

She added: "We will be extending the screening programme to include all women aged 47 to 73 by 2012, meaning 400,000 more will be screened each year."

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