Ten-year survival rates for all types of cancer has hit 46.2% in England and Wales, almost doubling from the 23.6% recorded 30 years ago.

According to Cancer Research UK, advances in treatment and better management of the condition - including earlier detection, specialist surgery, screening programmes and the use of multi-disciplinary teams in treatment delivery – have played a major role in boosting survival rates for the most common forms of cancer.

The figures, calculated by Professor Michael Coleman and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also show that survival rates for individual cancers continue to vary wildly. For example, just 2.5% of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are alive after five years, compared with 95% of those with testicular cancer.

In the same vein, the overall survival picture obscures both disappointments and successes in each area, CR UK notes. While there has been little improvement in pancreatic and lung cancer, nearly two-thirds of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer live for 20 years, and the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer has risen 6% to 46% in the last 10 years, the group says.

New goals for 2020

Although it is important to monitor individual cancers, the charity explains it is necessary to focus on a simple benchmark, ie. overall survival, to measure progress in the fight against the disease, as well as set meaningful goals for the future. To this end, it has set 10 new “ambitious” goals to achieve by the year 2020, including increasing the overall five-year survival rate - currently 49.6% - by two-thirds.

Other targets include making the latest treatment advances available, lowering disease incidence, ensuring that patients get access to the right information, and reducing affluence-related inequalities in both incidence and survival.

But the results came in just a few days after a Karolinska Institute global report on access to cancer drugs, which found that the UK is lagging way behind its European peers in providing patients the latest treatment advances, indicating that there is still some way to go. However, Harpal Kumar, CR UK’s Chief Executive, remains upbeat: “We read a lot of negative stories about the UK’s place in Europe, so it’s encouraging these figures show such dramatic improvements in cancer survival. The new goals will help us build on that progress.”