New figures from Cancer Research UK shows that young cancer deaths have dropped by 50% over the past 30 years.

The new figures, released today, found that the number of teenagers and young adults dying from cancer in Britain has fallen from around 580 per year in the mid-70s (1975-77) to around 300 today (2008-2010).

The cancer death rates of teenagers and young adults have fallen by almost a half - from 74.5 to 37.7 per million 15-24 years old in Britain in the same time period.

But these improvements mask a lack of drug development and clinical trial access in many cancers that are seen in this age group.

The focus on specialisation in teenage and young adult care has brought increasing awareness of this group’s specific needs, says CRUK. Experts believe that the change in the way that some teenagers and young adults are treated - in a similar way to children rather than adults – means that they are now doing better for some cancers, such as with blood cancers. 

In the last fifteen years in Britain, the largest drop in deaths was in from leukaemia - from an average of 54 deaths per year in 1995-1999 to 39 deaths in 2006-2010 in young males. In females, it fell from an average of 38 to 21 deaths per year.

Also there are now fewer young males dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than there used to be, dropping from an average of 20 deaths per year in 1995-1999 to 14 deaths per year in 2006-2010.

Professor Jillian Birch, a Cancer Research UK teenage cancer expert and collaborator on the report from The University of Manchester, said: “We’ve made great progress in helping more teenagers and young adults survive cancer, and today over 80 per cent will beat the disease. But there remains a problem with getting teenagers and young adults on to clinical trials – less than 20 per cent are on trials compared to around 50 to 70 per cent of children.

“We need to drastically improve this so that we can develop better treatments, help more teenagers and young adults survive the disease and offer hope to patients with harder to treat cancers. And this is the kind of work that the new Manchester Cancer Research Centre will work hard to do – bringing together a wide range of expertise to revolutionise cancer treatment.”

More clinical trials needed

But Simon Davies, chief executive of the Teenage Cancer Trust, said, warned that many of the rarer cancers which affect young people, such as sarcomas, have made “little or no progress”.

He adds that more investment in rare cancer research is needed urgently. “We want to work with Cancer Research UK and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure better access to clinical trials for young people with cancer.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, echoed this point, saying that drug development and clinical trials “are at the heart of helping more teenagers and young adults both survive cancer and live a full life after their treatment”. Dr Kupar said: “Too many young people are left out of clinical trials due to rigid age restrictions and this must change for us to continue to see improvements across all cancer types.”