Cancer survival rates to keep improving, says top doctor

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Three-quarters of cancer patients in the UK could expect to live for at least 10 years within the next decade, a leading doctor has said.

Dr David Graham, speaking as an expert for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), said improvements were being made in cancer diagnosis and treatment all the time.

At the moment, figures from Cancer Research UK show that half of people with cancer live for a decade.

Dr Graham said: "I think we are already seeing fantastic changes in survival rates already.

"We've seen that even in the last decade. There are a number of cancers already that have become chronic, manageable diseases."

One example was that some women with breast cancer are able to live long lives taking hormonal pills "with minimal side-effects and problems".

And he said survival rates for cancers would keep on improving.

He said it would be a "fantastic goal" if cancer could be managed in the same way as diabetes or high blood pressure.

"We don't cure high blood pressure, we don't cure diabetes. We find a way for people to live with them."

Part of the battle against cancer lies in tackling smoking and obesity rates, both of which impact on the risk of cancer, he said.

Obesity is now considered to be a bigger risk factor for cancer than smoking, he added.

He said: "It's a fight, it's a worthy fight to have." 

Dr Graham also works at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A second expert, Dr Richard Schilsky, senior vice president and chief medical officer at ASCO, said: "A combination of better screening, earlier diagnosis and more effective therapy are contributing to slow but steady improvements in cancer therapy."

He said he did not think it was too optimistic to say three-quarters of patients could have a 10-year survival rate within the next decade.

"I don't think we're that far away from that," he said.

He added that around a quarter of patients with advanced disease were heading towards long-term control of it with therapies.

"Immune therapies are really going to substantially improve the long-term disease control for some patients. The immune therapies have a very long-lasting effect.

"We can be extremely hopeful that we've come very far and the pace of progress is accelerating."

Sarah Toule, head of health information at World Cancer Research Fund, said: "We should see cancer survival rates continue to improve as we learn more about how lifestyle factors, such as diet, weight and physical activity affect cancer survival.

"The more steps that are taken to help reduce obesity, improve diets and get people more active in the UK, the more we can expect cancer cases to be prevented in the first place and for cancer survival rates to improve."

Eluned Hughes, head of public health and Information at Breast Cancer Now, said: "Thanks to research, more people are surviving breast cancer than ever before. But around 11,500 women and 80 men are still losing their lives to the disease each year in the UK.

"Currently, once breast cancer spreads to another part of the body, it sadly becomes incurable. If we are to finally stop people dying, we must answer the critical research question of how to stop the disease spreading.

"Our ambition is that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live."