Improved cancer treatment cuts deaths by 520,000

Picture: Greg Macvean
Picture: Greg Macvean
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ADVANCES in cancer research have saved tens of thousands of lives in Scotland since the 1980s, a leading charity has claimed.

Improved research and treatments saved the lives of almost 520,000 patients, including more than 38,000 in Scotland over the last three decades, Cancer Research UK said.

The charity compared the number of deaths from cancer with the level that would have been expected if mortality rates had stayed the same as they were in the 1980s, when the rate peaked.

Deaths from cancer were increasing in the 1980s, when more people died from tobacco-related conditions and screening for the illness was much rarer.

However, advances in treatment since then, such as new drugs, the roll-out of national screening programmes and the reduction in smoking rates, have improved survival rates among patients, Cancer Research UK said.

More than 352,000 cancer deaths have been prevented among males and 166,000 among women in the UK since the peak in 1984 for males and 1989 for females.

Cancer claimed the lives of about 85,000 men and 75,000 women in the UK in 2010, the most recently released figures from the charity showed.

However, the number of cancer deaths last year would have been about 30,000 more for men and 20,000 for women if patients had continued to die at the same rate as in the 1980s.

Professor Michael Olson, a scientist at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, said improved drugs for conditions such as leukaemia helped to explain the increased survival rate.

He said: “Some treatments have got dramatically better, such as with leukaemia, which, in some cases, can basically be a cure. We’re seeing the dividend of work done ten years ago and we have drugs that are much better targeted at a condition.”

Cancer Research UK’s Chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson insisted the UK would see “improvements snowball” as the charity launched its Beat Cancer Sooner, which aims to raise funds for more research treatment.

Across Scotland, there were 30,125 diagnoses of the disease in 2011, up from 26,150 in 2001 – with the increase attributed largely to being a result of having an ageing population.

But while more people were being diagnosed with cancer, figures also showed that the cancer mortality rate was down 12 per cent over the decade.

Cancer patient Janet Brodie, from Portobello, Edinburgh, is among the group of survivors of the disease backing the charity’s new campaign.

The 54-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer last November.

She said: “I know from experience that research kills cancer. I am so grateful for the treatment I have received so far that I know has saved my life.”

Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay said: “We need a commitment that such research is not left to our charities, but is a focus of properly funded scientific research by public bodies.”

SNP MSP John Wilson said: “The Scottish Government has continued to invest in the early detection of cancer and has improved access to screening.”