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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Cancer survival rates show sixfold increase in 40 years

Despite the improvements, the report also highlights a "woeful" lack of progress for certain types of cancer, such as brain, lung and stomach cancer.

The study 'Living after diagnosis - median cancer survival times' shows that, for 11 of the 20 cancers studied, median survival time is now predicted to be over five years. But for nine cancers, median survival time is three years or less, with little improvement since the 1970s.

Six cancers have median survival times of more than 10 years and there have been dramatic improvements in survival for some cancers like breast, colon, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - with years added to median survival times. But there is little, if any, good news for other cancers like lung, brain, or pancreatic cancer, where median survival times are still counted in weeks rather than years.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, hailed the research as a huge breakthrough in seeing the real picture of how long people are living after a cancer diagnosis.

"But the good news is tempered by the shocking variation between cancer types," she said.


Median survival time (months) since diagnosis, by period of diagnosis and cancer type

  1971-72 1980-81 1990-91 2000-01 2007
All cancers 13 19 26 51 69
Bladder* 29 - 120 118 108
Brain  3 4 5 5 7
Breast (Female) 66 115 - - -
Cervix 92 - - - -
Colon 7 15 27 58 120
Hodgkin's 110 - - - -
Kidney 9 14 20 48 64
Larynx (Male) 120 - - - -
Leukaemia 4 10 22 34 36
Lung 3 3 4 5 5
Melanoma 108 - - - -
Myeloma 5 11 19 26 30
Non-Hodgkin's 12 23 41 75 120
Oesophagus 2 3 5 7 8
Others 17 16 16 21 26
Ovary 8 12 17 29 37
Pancreas 2 2 2 3 3
Prostate* 27 42 49 - -
Rectum 15 21 30 75 106
Stomach 2 2 4 6 8
Testes - - - - -
Uterus - - - - -


Source: Macmillan Cancer Support analysis based on London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine research.


* Prostate & Bladder cancer. Trends for prostate cancer should be treated with caution due to introduction of the PSA testing and subsequent increase in incidence of low stage tumours. Trends in bladder cancer should be treated with caution due changing coding practices in the late 1990s.

Data are rounded to nearest month. Spaces indicate where no data are available as median survival time is greater than 10 years. Data are for adults aged 15-99 diagnosed in England and Wales. 2007 data are predicted survival estimates.