Research on cancer survival rates shows patchy progress
22 Nov 2011
Today's new data from Macmillan Cancer Support quite rightly draws attention to the huge variance in the improvement of survival rates for different types of cancer. As the report says, it remains 'a lottery' (although no-one really wins!).
But while there is good news in some areas, it remains very patchy overall.
The good news is that survival rates have risen for 11 out of the 20 cancers researched. Breast cancer and colon cancer have both shown particular improvements in life expectancy. Overall, six cancers now have median survival times of more than 10 years.
But the bad news is that lung, pancreatic and brain cancer survival rates show no real improvement, with survival still measured in weeks.
Macmillan's research found:
- Six of the cancers studied have predicted median survival times of more than 10 years
- The biggest improvement has been for colon cancer with a 17-fold increase in median survival time from around seven months to ten years
- Breast cancer median survival time has doubled since the 1970s and has been more than 10 years since at least the early 1990s
- Lung and brain cancer median survival times has barely risen, from 11 to 20 weeks; and from 13 to 28 weeks respectively
- Pancreatic cancer median survival time has increased by just three weeks (from nine to 12 weeks).
Note: Median survival time is the time since diagnosis when half of the patients have survived (or half have died).
I was somewhat shocked to hear my old colleague - when interviewing Professor Peter Johnson, the chief clinician for Cancer Research UK - on the Today programme come up with this rather blunt question: 'if you get lung, pancreatic or brain cancer, you'll almost certainly die and fairly quickly, won't you?'
More encouraging was this comment from Professor Johnson: "I think we're at an amazing watershed in cancer biology and our understanding of what makes the disease tick, and how we can best fight it. And I think we will see this pace of progress accelerate continuously over the coming years. I am very optimistic about the future."
The full report is here: www.macmillan.org.uk/Aboutus/News/Latest_News/TheCancerSurvivalLottery.aspx
The Today interview with Professor Johnson can be heard here: news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9645000/9645073.stm