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Cancer mortality: more needs to be done.

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

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According to the latest mortality statistics, produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2013 ‘cancers’ were the leading cause of death in the UK.

In the UK the three main causes by broad disease group are ‘circulatory diseases’, ‘cancers’ and ‘respiratory diseases’. The percentage of overall deaths as a result of these three main disease groups has fallen in the last three decades from 87% (1983) to 71% (2013), which has been partly attributed to improvements in treatment and the introduction of preventative programmes.

The figures show that whilst the percentage of deaths as a result of these three disease groups has fallen collectively, some individual disease areas have fallen more than others. ‘Cancers’ are now the disease group for which the largest percentage (29%) of deaths was registered in 2013, replacing ‘circulatory diseases’ (28%) as the UK’s biggest killer. This is because the mortality rates of ‘circulatory diseases’ have fallen dramatically in the last decade, with more than 40% decrease in the age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) for ‘circulatory diseases’ compared to smaller decreases for ‘cancers’ (12% in males and 8% in females). The drastic reduction in mortality rates for ‘circulatory diseases’ has been partly attributed to health initiatives, such as ‘Change4life’ and ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People’.

In addition to ‘cancers’ being the UK’s biggest killer, UK cancer survival rates continue to lag behind the rest of Europe. These statistics show that even at a time where we have specific provisions to fund cancer treatment (the Cancer Drugs Fund), cancer mortality rates are not improving as quickly as those of other disease areas. This suggests that more needs to be done to improve cancer prevention and treatment within the UK, particularly with regards to ‘rarer cancers’. ‘Rarer cancers’ are defined as all cancers other than the ‘big four’ cancer types (lung, bowel, breast and prostate). While rarer cancers account for 46% of cancer incidence they account for 54% of cancer mortality (in 2010). This suggests that more needs to be done to address the ‘hidden majority’ of cancer deaths.

It has been suggested that the key to improving cancer survival rates in almost all types of cancer (including blood cancers) is earlier diagnosis. This is because it may improve the number of treatment options as well as the effectiveness of treatments. In order to improve the earlier diagnosis of cancers it has been suggested that increased awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancers is required (for both medical professionals and the general public) as well as more referrals by GPs to specialists for tests.

Monica Izmajlowicz, Leukaemia CARE Chief Executive, said: “These statistics are particularly worrying and demonstrate that more needs to be done to address the issue of cancer mortality. In particular with regards to many ‘rarer cancers’ such as blood cancers, more needs to be done to improve patients’ access to treatments and patient overall survival rates. This is why we are in the process of developing our early diagnostic GP e-learning tool for all blood cancers, to support our GPs and to provide them with the knowledge to spot the symptoms of blood cancer earlier.”

To view the report by the Office of National Statistics, please click here.