Cancer survival rates improve in Wales

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The survival rate for all cancers for people living in Wales is continuing to increase, according to the latest official statistics.

Almost three quarters of patients in Wales with cancer (72.7%) survive for at least a year after diagnosis.

The figures show that overall cancer survival rates have improved significantly over the past decade.

The statistics also show big improvements in longer term survival.

The proportion of patients surviving for five years has increased from 49.7% between 2000-2004 to 57.1 % between 2010-2014.

Some of the key findings are:

  • One year survival has improved for most cancer types
  • Melanoma and cancers of the prostate and breast have the highest survival rates in Wales.
  • Although one-year lung cancer survival in Wales has improved markedly (equivalent to a 20% increase over five years) it is still slightly lower in Wales than for England in both men and women.
  • Compared with Northern Ireland, one-year survival rates are lower in Wales and England for bowel cancer amongst men and women.

Q&A: What are the big cancer issues for Wales?

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Media captionCath Casey was diagnosed with tongue cancer five years ago - but had waited before seeing her GP.

Cath Casey, from Cardiff, was diagnosed with tongue cancer five years ago.

She had suffered painful ulcers for 30 years and did not think a lump was a tumour, so waited before seeing her GP.

Ms Casey lost 80% of her tongue, with surgeons fitting a flap so she could still swallow, while she has therapy to help improve her ability to communicate.

'So busy'

"My speech is my main disability because communication is everything. Speaking on the phone is difficult, I can't say my name, so people can understand me.

"I'm eating about 75% of what I did before but it's mashed up in a mixer. I don't take pleasure in eating food, it's a means of staying alive. I've always been very positive, I'm grateful the head and neck team at the hospital were able to do so much. I didn't care how I looked, I was just glad they could do something about the cancer."

As for getting diagnosed, she urged people to check anything suspicious as soon as possible.

"People are so busy with their lives they put things off," she added.

Ms Casey is involved with the Make Sense head and neck cancer awareness campaign.

The figures also show there there are no significant differences in five-year survival rates between Wales and England for any cancer.

This is the first time that this type of comparison has been made.

It follows intense debate in recent years about the relative performance of the NHS in Wales compared to England.

However several international studies show the UK performs poorly on cancer survival compared to other developed nations.

Dr Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Public Health Wales and chair of the Cancer Implementation Group for Wales said the aim was to support the NHS to "speed up" the likelihood of an early diagnosis.

Specialist Cellan Thomas, a head and neck consultant, said early diagnosis was vital.

He said 60% of patients were presenting themselves late with cancer - which was due to both a fear factor and that it was "something which will go away".

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Media captionDr Dyfed Wyn Huws said there was also an encouraging increase in survival for rarer forms of cancer

"When you present late you present with disease which needs more surgery, radiotherapy and more chemotherapy - the survival rate isn't as good, so really 60% of them will pass away from the disease within five years," he said.

"If you present early, the chances are that you are between 80 and 90% likely to be alive and disease-free in five years time."

Kate Brain, a health psychologist from Cardiff University's School of Medicine has looked at the different reasons why people delayed seeking help.

"We ran a large international survey and found people in UK including Wales are more likely to say 'I don't want to bother the doctor' - and that could be to do with people perceiving pressure on the health service.

"We need to think about how we target awareness campaigns to encourage people to talk to their GP."

Dr Tom Crosby, medical director of the Wales Cancer Network and a consultant oncologist, said: "Although these latest statistics sound positive, there is a long way to go before we match the best in Europe.

"It is therefore important that clinicians continue to work together with the NHS and the Welsh Government to improve cancer survival in Wales."

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