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People 'twice as likely to live 10 years after cancer diagnosis than in 1970s'

By Jemma Crew

People are twice as likely to live at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer than they were at the start of the 1970s, according to research.

More than 170,000 people in the UK who were diagnosed in the 1970s and 1980s are still alive - a number Macmillan Cancer Support described as "extraordinary" in its Cancer: Then and Now report.

The increase in long-term cancer survivors is down to more sophisticated treatment combined with an ageing population, the charity said, acknowledging that there was still a huge variation in survival rates according to cancer type.

But it warned the consequences were increasing demand on the NHS, with more people living for longer with side-effects.

Macmillan chief executive Lynda Thomas said: "More and more people are being diagnosed with cancer and, in general, having a more sophisticated life with their cancer than perhaps they would have done.

"What we are now seeing is that a lot of people are coming in and out of treatment, so all of that does put pressure on the NHS."

Around 625,000 people in the UK are estimated to be facing poor health or disability after treatment for cancer. Long-term consequences can range from painful lower-leg swelling in women following breast cancer to emotional trauma.

With the number of people living with cancer in the UK set to grow from two and half million to four million by 2030, more people will need support.

Mrs Thomas said: "About one in four cancer patients will come out of cancer treatment with really, really debilitating and very serious side-effects.

"They can be things like incontinence or experiencing serious sexual problems, and those are the things we tend not to talk about. But they can be the things that really result in people having a very poor life experience after their cancer diagnosis."

The challenge for medical professionals is to "keep up to speed" with the potential side-effects as new treatments emerge, she added.

"It does happen that from time to time we will meet patients who've said 'I had no idea this was going to happen'," the chief executive explained.

"I hope that's happening less now, particularly as professionals become better at explaining the consequences of treatment.

"But it's important people recognise that issues such as fertility might be affected, or you might have heart problems later on in life. You never want somebody to say, 'I wish I'd known that before because I would have done something different'."

Macmillan estimated that there could be around 42,500 people diagnosed with cancer in the 1970s and 1980s who may still be dealing with long-term consequences.

For example, after suffering cancer as a child, Greig Trout developed scoliosis, deep vein thrombosis and eczema. He struggles to put on muscle or fat in his upper body, has physiotherapy for his back and takes blood thinning pills every day.

Doctors also believe his second bout of cancer, diagnosed at age 30, could have been a result of radiotherapy he received.

Belfast Telegraph


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