Half of UK population 'will get cancer in lifetime'


Recovering cancer patient Barbara Falconer said talking to others helped her realise she was 'normal'

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The number of people in the UK who will get cancer during their lifetime will increase to nearly half the population by 2020, a report has forecast.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the projected figure of 47%, up from the current 44%, would put huge pressure on the NHS.

People living longer is thought to be a major reason for the increase.

But the charity said that more people were surviving cancer compared to 20 years ago.

In 1992, the proportion of people in the UK who got cancer during their life was 32%. This increased to 44% in 2010, an increase of more than a third.

Macmillan said this figure would continue rising over the next decade, levelling off at around 47% between 2020 and 2030.

The charity said this was likely to be an underestimate of the true risk facing people alive in 2020, as life expectancy increased and more people developed cancer.

To produce their figures, Macmillan used data on cancer incidence, cancer mortality and deaths from all causes from across the UK.

They collected figures on cancer survival rates too.

In 1992, 45,000 people, or 21% of those who had cancer, did not die from the disease.

This increased to around 90,000 (35%) in 2010 and is predicted to rise to four in 10 people (38%) surviving cancer and dying from another cause by 2020.

Other causes of death are most commonly heart disease, respiratory disease or stroke.

Gruelling treatments

Macmillan puts the increased survival rates from cancer down to a greater focus on early diagnosis, advances in cancer treatments and better cancer care.

Cancer risk factors

  • There are many factors that influence an individual's risk of developing cancer
  • Some factors cannot be controlled, such as age and family history
  • But risk factors related to lifestyle can be controlled - such as giving up smoking, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Around one in four cancers diagnosed in the UK could be avoided if people made changes to their lifestyles

The growth in the number of people getting cancer is explained by the fact that people are living longer, because as the population ages the incidence of cancer rises.

Although the charity said the survival trend was "encouraging", it said there was growing evidence that many cancer patients did not return to full health after gruelling treatments and the serious side effects of the disease.

Prof Jane Maher, chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Many patients can be left with physical health and emotional problems long after treatment has ended.

"People struggle with fatigue, pain, immobility, or an array of other troublesome side-effects.

"We need to manage these consequences for the sake of the patient, but also for the sake of the taxpayer. We should plan to have more services to help people stay well at home, rather than waiting until they need hospital treatment."

Ciaran Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the predicted cancer incidence figures posed "a herculean challenge for the NHS and for society".

Ciarán Devane, Macmillan Cancer Support: "Two people in five won't die of their cancer"

"The NHS will not be able to cope with the huge increase in demand for cancer services without a fundamental shift towards proper after-care, without more care delivered in the community, and without engaging cancer patients on their own health."

Sean Duffy, NHS England's national clinical director for cancer, said the NHS had been set the challenge of saving an additional 5,000 lives from the disease a year by 2014-15.

"We also recognise that local NHS teams need to consider providing a new range of care services for cancer survivors to tackle their needs and improve their quality of life."

He added: "Through our strategic clinical networks for cancer, we aim to share best practice and develop clinical pathways that help deliver better outcomes for patients."

Cancer specialist Professor Greg Rubin, from the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "This is welcome evidence that people are increasingly likely to survive cancer but a powerful reminder that survivors have complex needs that health services, particularly in primary care, will need to respond to."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    267 Deb - I checked out your site. Same as all others of that ilk, just a front for the alternative medicine industry. Why are "big pharma" evil for making a profit out of treatments that actually work, but "holistic" sites good for selling ones that don't?
    On that note - FIFTY TWO QUID for 60 Vitamin E tablets. Holy hell! A quick search on Amazon shows they're selling the same amount for £5.30!

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    265 Having worked as a nurse looking after children & adults being treated for cancer, obesity is not a major factor.

    It can effect anyone regardless of how 'healthy' we are - most cancer patients are in an older age group. In some, genetics may be significant (eg BRCA), in others viruses (eg HPV which most people come in contact with), in others chemicals used in industry (asbestosis etc).

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Yup - beat the cancer - now got incurable secondary Lymphodema in both Legs and belly! Turning me into the Michellin Man.

    Trying to make the best of it - got to die of something I guess!

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.


    'Kids with cancer are a prime illustration of how it ISN'T always (or even usually) caused by 'obesity' or smoking.'

    The article says 'Around one in four cancers diagnosed in the UK could be avoided if people made changes to their lifestyles'

    So you are right but it's worth preventing the 1 in 4 as well as finding cures for the other 75%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    228. PeterSym: Or maybe 'obesity' is only a problem because the WHO said it is and no-one's ever challenged that? Remember the recent US study that claimed that those with a BMI between 25-35 (ie. 85% of the 'obese') not only live longer than those in the 'normal' group but have better survival rates for illnesses INCLUDING cancers? Tam Fry et al called it 'irresponsible' and wanted it suppressed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Its unfortunate that many cancer charities are raising funds for the pharmacy industry which has plenty of cash itself. I would suggest looking at the website canceractive.com. A very interesting feature is that almost all who get cancer have candida overgrowth in the gut. We see that with the westernisation of diets in developing countries, cancer becomes and issue. The answer is in our hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    'Lifestyle' is not the whole story in who might get cancer - you can live an exemplary life & still get it. Or do all the wrong things & not.

    What we do know is that throughout our lives cells replicate. As we age, little mistakes in this process are far more likely & can these little mistakes can be the trigger for cancer - hence cancer is indeed more common in an older age group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    255. NotMeHonest "go into a children's cancer ward, and tell me you don't want to see a cure"
    Kids with ancer are a prime illustration of how it ISN'T always (or even usually) caused by 'obesity' or smoking.
    246. SurfingSharka "the BBC should consider a serious, hard-science documentary series about what cancer is"
    The agenda-driven BBC would no doubt, and as usual, blame it all on the fatties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    'Five a day for me would mean obesity and an increased risk of cancer. '

    If you add 5 a day without adjusting something else you will gain weight. But 5 fruits a day would be 200 calories or less. 5 veg even less. So cut out a cake, or eat a smaller portion of meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    257 not a fan of the listed people but your comments are a disgrace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    In the US well documented cases of the reversal of heart disease, the curing of T2DM both with dietary intervention. The reaction from the large UK medical charities and the NHS to these potential treatments - nothing, no trials, no interest. Lets ignore science if it points to the fact that 70% of common disease is lifestyle based and early intervention often prevents or slows its progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    A survivor or cancer I find the attitude of some people on here rather disturbing. We do not know in many cases what causes or prevents cancer- why don't we concentrate of curing the **** thing rather than slinging around our pet theories about causes such as GM foods. cosmetics etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    245.Drunken Hobo
    "All cancer specialists appear to have missed this point"

    if you say so! ...and so have most of the population WRT the legitimacy of the Bilderberg group meeting in secret and plotting their vision of the future for the rest of humanity... at the expense of the British tax payer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    @234 Bepa and 256 Mscracker.

    here you go. Cancer breakdowns by type and age:

    36% are in people over 75 and hence an increase in life expectancy from 73 to 80 could well account for a lot of in increase.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I blame it all on the lefties, Marxists and well.... lefties.

    Where's Sally, Sue and that Jaw dropping contributor? What do you think? Are they a Cancer that needs cutting out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Be better if 100% of us got Cancer.. Some genetic engineering is needed to rid the planet of immorality, selfish greed and stupidity.. Time to start afresh, a clean slate. Then again, it's quite pleasing to think that Simon Cowell, Wayne Rooney and Nick Clegg, might contract Cancer, there's hope then...

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    In 1992 life expectancy was around 73 in the UK and now its around 80
    So 7 more years of life accounts for the jump in cancer?
    I'd like to see an age breakdown of the cancer statistic to see which ages are getting cancer."
    Me, too.My guess is that environmental&other factors may be in play.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    The people saying 'we will all die of something one day, so it doesn't matter' are right, of course. But then go into a children's cancer ward, and tell me you don't want to see a cure. In fact, no-one should die of cancer before they're at least 80. So come on - let's get fighting it on behalf of people who are dying *before their time*.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I suspect 95% will get one or more of the following at some point in our lives....

    > Heart Attack
    > Stroke
    > Cancer

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    "I can play the statistics game too. 100% of those alive today, will, eventually, die. Or 0% of those alive today will not survive to see their 150th birthday"

    0% won't see their 150th birthday? Woo - yeah bring it on, 150 here we come! They may have to raise the pension age though :(


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