There has been a great rise in cancer survival rates, which have now reached 50%, meaning that now half of all patients will survive at least 10 years after a diagnosis, according to new statistics released by Cancer Research UK.
However, alongside this positive news is the shocking revelation that 10 year survival rates for the deadliest forms of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer haven't changed at all since the 1970s.
The UK continued to lag behind its comparable European neighbours when it came to cancer survival, chiefly due to GPs missing symptoms, late diagnosis and less effective treatments being offered.
Cancer Research UK plans to boost its funding by more than 50% with the ambitious goal of seeing three-quarters of cancer patients diagnosed in 20 years time survive at least 10 years.
Over the next five to 10 years, the charity will up its research spending from £350 million to around £525 million a year.
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Key priority areas will be probing the root causes of cancer, improving early diagnosis and treatment, expanding personalised medicine, and focusing more on the deadliest cancers.
Professor Michel Coleman, head of Cancer Research UK's Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "We want to see people with every type of cancer get the same chances of living a long life. This won't be easy, but the progress reported here over the last 40 years shows we're moving in the right direction."
Dr Kumar added: "Twenty years from now we want to see three-quarters of all patients surviving at least 10 years following a diagnosis of cancer. That's a big step forward from where we are today. We firmly believe that's achievable."
We asked Nick Maisey, Consultant Oncologist at London Bridge Hospital to tell us about this form of the disease, what the symptoms are, and why it is still so difficult to treat.
What are the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
‘Many cases of pancreatic cancer present with vague, non-specific symptoms such as weight loss, abdominal discomfort or a change in bowel habit. Less commonly patients can develop more specific symptoms such as painless jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) or pale coloured stools and dark urine. If patients have any unexplained persistent symptoms, it is sensible to seek medical advice as early as possible as there is a higher chance of cure when pancreatic cancer is detected at an early stage.’
How can you reduce your chance of developing the disease?
‘It is believed that improving your life-style factors can reduce the chance of developing pancreatic cancer and in particular there appear to be links with smoking and obesity. Some cases can be linked with other medical conditions such as chronic pancreatitis and diabetes, but most cases of the disease are sporadic (i.e. occur without any obvious causal factors).’
How is the disease normally treated?
‘The choice of treatment is dependent on the stage of the cancer. If the cancer is detected at an early stage (i.e. the cancer is localised to the pancreas gland itself) it can be possible to remove the cancer with an operation. However if the cancer has spread to other organs in the body, or if it is too large for surgery, chemotherapy is often used to treat patients although it is not always possible to cure the disease. In some situations a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is used to control the cancer.’
Are there different types of pancreatic cancer? Can you give a brief outline of each and how they are different?
‘The most common type of pancreatic cancer (over 90% of cases) is known as adenocarcinoma and is derived from the glandular cells within the pancreas. These cancers are often only detected when there has been spread of the cancer to other parts of the body. There are rarer types of cancer that occur in the pancreas, the most common group being so-called ‘neuroendocrine’ cancers. These cancers can produce excess amounts of gut hormones and so can produce unusual symptoms such as high or low blood sugar, symptoms of stomach ulcers, and diarrhoea. Because of these unusual symptoms this unusual type of pancreatic cancer is often detected before the cancer has had a chance to spread and so generally the chance of cure is higher than with the more common adenocarcinoma.’
Who is most at risk of developing pancreatic cancer/is pancreatic cancer more common in men or women of a certain age?
‘Each year in the UK, approximately 8500 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is marginally more common in men and the majority of patients are over 60 years old.’