Thousands of people in England with the most advanced stage of cancer are surviving for several years after diagnosis thanks to improved treatment and care, research shows.
Macmillan Cancer Support and Public Health England’s (PHE) National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service found that at least 17,000 people have survived for two years or more after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, when the disease has already spread to at least one other part of their body.
The figure, which has not previously been available, includes at least 1,600 women diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and 6,400 men diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. It also includes at least 1,200 people diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and at least 2,300 people diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer.
“This is really positive news, but living with advanced cancer can be a difficult situation to be in. As well as dealing with the physical symptoms of cancer and having multiple hospital appointments, scans and treatment options to contend with, there’s also the emotional and psychological impact of having an uncertain future.”
The research, revealed on Wednesday at the 2017 National Cancer Research Institute Conference in Liverpool, is based on data from England’s national cancer registry.
It captures people who were diagnosed with one of 10 common types of cancer between 2012 and 2013 and were still alive at the end of 2015.
Macmillan said the figures highlight the changing nature of the disease and expressed the hope that patients whose options were previously limited could see their cancer become more “treatable” and manageable, like other chronic illnesses.
Carol Fenton, 55, from London, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2015 and said her life since has been a “rollercoaster” of periods when her symptoms are settled and others when changes in scan results necessitate changes in treatment. She said: “It is hard to plan family activities a long way into the future, so we plan our life around my three-monthly scans. I’m concentrating on what I can do, rather than what I can’t, and I’m hoping that I will stay as well as possible for as long as possible, yet being realistic about preparing for when my condition progresses, not knowing if this will be in a few months, a year, or within five years or more.”
Several studies have suggested that cancer survival rates in the UK lag behind those of other European countries. For instance, survival rates for breast cancer are a decade behind countries including France and Sweden, according to one piece of research. Another found that the average adult five-year survival rates for patients diagnosed with eight common types of cancer between 2000 and 2007, were lower in the UK than the European average. Experts have flagged the need for earlier diagnosis and improved access to treatments.
Dr Jem Rashbass, cancer lead at PHE, said it was imperative people got diagnosed earlier, which was why the agency was running the Be Clear on Cancer campaigns to educate the public on the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Rashbass described the cancer registry data as “an invaluable resource in helping us to track improvements in cancer outcomes and gain more understanding of the implications for those living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis”.
The 10 types of cancer in the Macmillan and PHE study were: bladder; female breast; colorectal; kidney, renal pelvis and ureter; lung, trachea and bronchus; melanoma of skin; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; ovary; prostate and uterine cancer.
Since you’re here …
… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information. Thomasine F-R.