Cancer is no longer the death sentence it was

Lawrence McGinty

Former Science and Medical Editor

Cancer survival rates improve Credit: PA Wire

Remember Les Dawson, the great Lancashire comedian? He used to play a woman character who, when discussing sensitive things - like "women's problems" - would mouth the words without actually speaking them out loud.

It's a habit developed by mill girls who couldn't hear each other in noisy factories so had to lip-read.One of the words never to be spoken out loud was "cancer".

It was a terrible diagnosis. Patients didn't survive. It was only a matter of time before they "passed on".

Things, however, are changing. New statistics from Cancer Research UK show that today, your chances of surviving cancer (for at least ten years) are about 50/50.

Four decades ago in the 70s, the odds would have been 3 to 1 against you. Your chances of survival have doubled because of earlier diagnosis, new treatments and all the other advances in medicine like scanners.

Watch: Cancer Research chief hails 'enormous progress'

But here's the rub. It all depends on what kind of cancer you get.Breast cancer - the chances are good.

Women with breast cancer now have a 78 percent chance of surviving for at least a decade, compared to only 40 percent 40 years ago.

But other cancers haven’t seen such big improvements in survival.

Only one percent of pancreatic cancer patients and five percent of lung cancer patients diagnosed today are expected to survive 10 years.

Survival from oesophageal cancer is still far too low at 12 percent, although 40 years ago it languished at around four percent. Brain tumour survival is also very low at 13 percent, despite more than doubling in the last 40 years.

Cancer is no longer a words people dare not speak. It still claims many lives every year. But it's no longer the death sentence it was.

Read: Prostate cancer patients' survival rates improve most