Date Published: 25 June 2009

Thousands of older people dying prematurely from cancer, say researchers

Cancer Research UK

As many as 15,000 people over 75 could be dying prematurely from cancer each year in the UK, according to research presented today at the National Cancer Intelligience Network (NCIN) conference.

These premature deaths could be prevented if cancer mortality rates in the UK dropped to match countries in Europe and America which have the lowest rates.

The researchers from the North West Cancer Intelligence Service (NWCIS) in Manchester compared cancer death rates in the UK with Europe and America.

They found that over the past decade the numbers of people dying from cancer in the under 75s has significantly dropped in the UK. But, little progress has been made in the over 75s and the gap in death rates with other countries is getting wider.

Dr Tony Moran, lead researcher from NWCIS, said:

"It's worrying that so many older people die from cancer in the UK compared with other countries. But, it's not clear why this is. Research is urgently needed to understand the reasons for the extra deaths so that steps can be taken to prevent them.

Cancer is largely a disease of older people, with about half of all cancers diagnosed in those aged 70 or older. Most 75 year olds could be expected to live for at least another ten years and we would expect them to benefit from improvements in treatment."

Chris Carrigan, head of the NCIN, said:

"This study indicates that a worrying number of older cancer patients are dying unnecessarily and likely reasons include going to the doctor late, delayed diagnosis and treatment. It's really important that people are aware of cancer symptoms and feel able to go to the doctor if they notice anything that feels wrong for them. We believe many deaths could be avoided each year in the UK if cancers were diagnosed sooner."

Professor Mike Richards, national cancer director, said:

"This is an important study and urgent action needs to be taken on the findings. We need to ensure that cancer patients of all ages are diagnosed as early as possible and receive appropriate treatment.

The findings have already been shared with the National Cancer Equality Initiative and we will be working with the NHS and other interested parties to tackle any age inequalities."


Source: Cancer Research UK.

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