One in three people in the UK fear cancer over Alzheimer’s, dementia and cardiovascular disease, according to new research, while 81% do not believe there would be a cure in their lifetime.

A 2,000-people poll carried out by IPSOS MORI and commissioned by drugmaker Astellas, quotes figures from Cancer Research UK that one in three Britons will develop cancer at some point and every year around 309,500 people are diagnosed with the disease. It goes on to cite claims from Macmillan that the proportion of people in the UK who will get cancer in their life has increased by more than a third over the past 20 years and by 2020, that will grow to almost one in two (47%).

The survey goes on to claim that 97% of people still do not follow recommended government guidelines on healthy living including fruit and vegetable intake, exercise, alcohol, red meat and oily fish intake. Commenting on the findings, Tim Eisen, professor of medical oncology at the University of Cambridge, notes that life expectancy is going up "at an incredible rate of about five hours a day, which means that people are now living long enough to get cancer. In the past, they would have died of other conditions before developing tumours".

He adds that although the average 70 year old "is no more likely to get cancer than in the past, because more people are surviving to that age and beyond, we are seeing more cases in the clinic". Prof Eisen goes on to say that "more than four in ten cases of cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes such as eating healthily, keeping a healthy body weight, cutting back on alcohol and not smoking".

Other findings of note show that 49% believe the government should introduce wider screening for diseases of old age at a younger age to improve prevention and 51% say it should cut spending in other areas to pay for more and better social care.

Funding fears

When asked how they would fund their healthcare if the NHS were no longer free at the point of service, a quarter of respondents said they would have to use their savings, whilst 24% did not know how. In addition, 37% felt they could afford health insurance and one in ten said they would either sell personal or other household items or assets, including their home, to pay.

The survey notes that "the respondents seem to have no interest in working beyond the existing retirement age", with a third saying they would like to stop working at 60 – five years earlier than the present age. This is despite the fact that 45% did not feel they had adequate provisions for their own retirement and the same amount cannot afford to pay into a private pension.

However, John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, is optimistic about the future, saying that “ageing is often framed in a negative light, seen as placing unsustainable pressure on health services. But, in reality, its impact on NHS costs is less dramatic than might be assumed".

He says that "increases in life expectancy also extend the number of years of healthy life; so, rather than increasing healthcare costs per se, they tend simply to defer the costs associated with death". However, Prof Appleby concludes by stating that "in order to cater better for the health needs of this changing demographic, we do urgently need to examine the way our care services are organised and funded".

The research was conducted to mark the Astellas Innovation Debate, called the 'Age Crunch', which is taking place in London this evening (November 19). The event, to be chaired by Lord Robert Winston, begins at 6.45pm (UK time) and will be streamed online at