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Cancer cases increased by 12%

New figures released by Cancer Research UK have shown a 12% increase in the rate of cancer since the mid-90s.

More than 352,000 people are now diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year, compared with more than 253,000 people getting the disease every year two decades before (a rise from 540 per 100,000 people in 1993-1995 to 603 per 100,000 in 2011-2013).

The figures also reveal that more men are diagnosed with cancer each year than women. More than 179,000 men are diagnosed yearly in the UK (684 per 100,000) compared with nearly 173,000 women (545 per 100,000).

According to Cancer Research UK, the rise in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer is down to an ageing and growing UK population – but it means that there is more pressure on NHS services to diagnose and treat an expanding population.

The figures also show that while the likelihood of getting cancer has risen the chances of surviving the disease have also increased. Cancer death rates in the UK have fallen by nearly 10% over 10 years according to Cancer Research UK’s analysis. Survival has actually doubled over the last 40 years – an increase that is due to better treatments, more accurate tests, earlier diagnosis and screening programmes.

There is some variation between different types of cancer, however. For lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer survival rates remain low, partly because these cancers have few obvious symptoms and tend to be diagnosed at a later stage when they're much harder to treat.

Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistical information, says: “People are living longer so more people are getting cancer. But the good news is more people are surviving their cancer. There’s still a huge variation in survival between different cancer types and there’s a lot of work to do to reach Cancer Research UK’s ambition for three in four patients to survive their disease by 2034.”

While one in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime, Cancer Research UK estimate that more than four in ten cases of cancer could be prevented through lifestyle changes, including not smoking.

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer. “We have potentially reached a tipping point; for the first time, more people are surviving cancer than are dying from it, a very significant achievement in the battle against the disease. Better means of early detection play an important role in this. To make real headway against cancer, however, we need to fight it on both fronts – and that means not only better methods of treatment and detection, but prevention as well. At the moment we have a cancer legacy – that is to say, many of the cases of cancer that we are seeing now are due to lifestyle factors going back years or even decades, when the effects of poor diet, alcohol, sun exposure or smoking were not fully understood. Now that we know more about the impact of these factors we have the potential to slow or even stop the increase in cancers in future decades – especially given the evidence that one in four cancers may be entirely preventable. We can only do so by heeding medical advice on how to reduce our own risk right now, however. We can’t blame ourselves for past ignorance with regard to cancer, but if we are to beat the disease we cannot afford to ignore the positive steps we can now take.