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Cancer patients ‘living six times longer’


Patients are living nearly six times longer today following cancer diagnosis than 40 years ago, according to the results of a study by Macmillan Cancer Support.

However, while median survival time has increased from one to six years, results vary widely depending upon the type of cancer.

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.

Macmillan’s research found that:

  • Six of the cancers studied have predicted median survival times of more than 10 years
  • The biggest improvement has been for colon cancer, with a 17-fold increase in median survival time, from around seven months to ten years
  • Breast cancer median survival time has doubled since the 1970s and has been more than 10 years since at least the early 1990s
  • Lung and brain cancer median survival times has barely risen, from 11 to 20 weeks; and from 13 to 28 weeks respectively
  • Pancreatic cancer median survival time has increased by just three weeks (from nine to 12 weeks).


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Research into breast cancer accounted for 20% of site-specific research funding in 2010, more than the combined spend on some of the cancers, with the lowest median survival times (stomach, oesophagus, pancreas, brain and lung) making up 13% of site-specific research finding in 2010.

“This research is a huge breakthrough in seeing the real picture of how long people are living after a cancer diagnosis,” said Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

“But the good news is tempered by the shocking variation between cancer types.

“Though we can celebrate increasing median survival times for some cancers such as breast and colon cancers, there has been lamentably poor progress made for lung and pancreatic cancer.

“It is clear that much, much more money needs to be put into research, surgery and treatment for the cancers with the poorest prognosis.

Macmillan Cancer Support

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