Although cancer is generally thought to be on the increase, the future prognosis is actually more positive. By the middle of the century, the disease could be more or less eliminated for most age groups, new research says.
A report from University College London says “it is realistic to expect that by 2050 nearly all cancer related deaths in children and adults aged up to (say) 80 years will have become preventable through lifestyle changes and because of the availability of protective technologies and better pharmaceutical and other therapies.”
Currently, 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, with 8 million dying because of it. The report forecasts the burden to almost double by 2030, to 26 million diagnoses and 17 million deaths. However, a lot of those deaths are expected to occur in China, which has a relatively old population for an emerging country. Deaths among people under-80 are predicted to decline as a percentage of population, particularly in richer countries. For example, the U.K. will see a 40% reduction in deaths by 2030 compared to 1990 numbers.
“In future decades combinations of innovative medicines coupled with enhanced radiological and surgical interventions will, provided research investment levels are maintained, mean that many more individuals with advanced cancers will be cured, or enabled to live with them in a fulfilling manner,” the report says.
Aside from advances in genomics and the discovery of personalized drugs, the report points to the importance of “effective psychosocial and practical support for lifestyle changes.” Greater awareness of cancer and its environmental causes can make people more responsible for their health, encourage people to report tell-tale signs of cancer at an earlier stage (which is crucial for successful treatment), and spread “know-how” to less advantaged communities. Declines in tobacco use should also help reduce the incidence of cancer.
“Awareness raising, defined as helping people to not only understand the causes of cancer but also to overcome barriers to using their knowledge and the services available to them to avoid illness when possible and access treatment when necessary, will be central to ‘winning the cancer war,’” the report concludes.