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Thousands survive cancer up to 40 years after diagnosis

Thousands survive cancer up to 40 years after diagnosis

Nearly 200,000 people in the UK are living with cancer despite being diagnosed 40 years ago, according to new research from Macmillan Cancer Support and Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS).

In a new report, Cancer: Then and Now, released today, Macmillan reveals the number of cancer survivors diagnosed in the 1970s and 1980s for the first time.

The research found that, on average, people are twice as likely to survive cancer at least 10 years after being diagnosed than they were at the start of the 1970s.

These improvements in survival rates are partly due to earlier diagnosis, through screening programmes and advances in diagnostic tools, as well as more refined treatment.

The report compares the diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer 40 years ago, to the experiences of cancer patients in the 2010s.

The report also highlights the consistent and growing support the charity offers people affected by cancer, including the introduction of Macmillan nurses in 1975.

The charity launches its brand new advertising campaign today which shows the breadth of services available to people affected by cancer such as Macmillan professionals, information and services and warns that demand for these services will continue to grow as more people with cancer live longer.

But those who survive many years after a cancer diagnosis do not necessarily have a good quality of life. 

Macmillan estimates that there could be around 42,500 people living with cancer who were diagnosed in the 1970s and 1980s who may still be dealing with problems linked to their cancer, such as long-term side effects.

Long-term side effects can include chronic fatigue, incontinence and sexual difficulties.

Furthermore, the charity estimates around 625,000 people in the UK are thought to be facing poor health or disability after treatment for cancer.

With the numbers of people living with cancer in the UK set to grow from 2.5 million people to 4 million by 2030, more people than ever will need support with the long-term effect of cancer.

While the charity provides a range of information through its website, mobile units and information centres, the charity has said it is vital that the NHS ensures patients are given the right support and know where to find information and help when they need it.

But recent analysis from Macmillan shows an estimated 116,000 cancer patients last year in England did not have the potential long-term side effects from their cancer fully explained to them.

Jane Maher, chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “With so many people alive today who were diagnosed with cancer in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s clear that having cancer is no longer necessarily the death sentence it once was; that is a cause for celebration.

“But while it is not always life-ending, it is life-changing and we need to ensure that people who have had the disease or who are living with it have a good quality of life and tailored, appropriate support.

“We know that thousands of people are living with the consequences of yesterday’s treatments, illnesses such as heart disease or osteoporosis.

“They may also be dealing with other issues that are a result of their cancer such as money worries if they are too ill to work.

“In the future we will have even more people living with cancer in the long-term. Our health service needs to be equipped to meet the increasing demand over the coming years.”

Lynda Thomas, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “Today’s report highlights the ever-changing story of cancer in this country.

“And today we launch our brand new advertising campaign which highlights the breadth of Macmillan services available today to help people not only cope with the devastating news that they have cancer, but the impact this has on their work, finances, relationships and of course, their health.

“We’re still here, as we were decades ago, to reach as many people affected by this disease as we can – as the numbers rise and their needs get more complex.”

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More than 170,000 people in the UK are living with cancer despite being diagnosed decades ago, finds Macmillan Cancer Support