"UK’s annual cancer diagnosis numbers rise by 50,000 in a decade,” reports The Guardian.
The headline is based on new figures released by Cancer Research UK, which show that in 2011 (the latest available statistics) 331,487 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer. In 2001 there were 283,000 diagnoses. The current figures mean there are about 524 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.
The figures are published as Cancer Research UK continues its campaign to raise awareness of the importance of research in beating cancer and reducing its impact.
What did Cancer Research UK find?
Cancer Research UK found that the overall rates of people being diagnosed with cancer have climbed by a more than a third (35%) between 1975 and 2011. The age-standardised incidence rates, (which take into account how many old or young people are in the population so that differences seen are not due to difference in the proportion of young and old people) increased from around 295 per 100,000 in 1975 to almost 400 per 100,000 in 2011.
Importantly, the charity found that four cancers account for more than half of all new cases – breast, lung, bowel and prostate.
Around 159,000 people died from cancer in the UK in 2011. The death rate from cancer is falling. In 1975 there were 215 deaths per 100,000 people (measured using an age-standardised mortality rate) compared to 170 cases per 100,000 in 2011.
What could be causing the increase in cancer diagnoses?
Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer. And as people are tending to live longer, this is contributing to the higher numbers of cancers found.
Smoking, being overweight, a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and alcohol consumption are the four lifestyle factors linked to the most cancers.
Cancer Research does not discuss other possible causes for the increase in the number of diagnoses. And it is possible the changes could be a reflection of changes in lifestyle factors (such as increased prevalence of overweight and obesity), but also due to improved cancer awareness and diagnostic methods compared to the 1970s. One encouraging point is that deaths from cancer are decreasing, which may reflect earlier diagnosis and treatment, and improved treatments.
What does Cancer Research UK say about the figures?
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "These figures reinforce the vital need for more research to better prevent, treat and cure cancer. As the population ages, more people than ever before will be told: 'you have cancer'."