Poll highlights misunderstanding about cancer survival rates

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The majority of people think that cancer patients cannot live for years after their diagnosis, research has found.

According to a YouGov poll commissioned by the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), only 28% of people realise that cancer can nowadays often be controlled long term, compared with 46% who think the same for heart disease and 77% for diabetes.

Only a quarter of the 2,103 people polled realised that the long-term survival rate for people with cancer had increased markedly in recent years, while 39% believed cancer could be “cured” within the next 50 years.

The ICR said the strong public focus on finding a “cure” for cancer meant that people were overlooking the fact such progress had been made in turning it into a manageable disease. This was affecting general understanding of how the disease can be tackled in future, it noted.

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, said it was aiming to find new approaches to treatment that will allow cancer to be controlled in the long term.

“We believe it’s vital that we can take the public on this journey with us, by understanding that cancer is a hugely complex and evolving disease, and that we need to move beyond the old, binary ‘cure or nothing’ thinking to find innovative new ways of treating the disease that can give people a longer and better life,” he said.

“The good news is that, thanks to research, we are already making great progress against cancer, with diseases that just a few years ago were lethal now increasingly manageable for patients long term. If we can finish off cancer evolution, we will effectively finish cancer.”

The research also found that 15% of the public, and 16% of cancer patients, were not aware that cancer can resist treatment and come back.

Chrissie Mortimer was diagnosed with the blood cancer chronic myeloid leukaemia 10 years ago. She is living with the condition by treating it with the growth-blocking medication Imatinib.

She said: “I never would have thought of cancer as something that can be managed, but it’s been 10 years since I was diagnosed, and I’d say I’m managing pretty well! I still work one day a week, and I now spend a lot of my time supporting a local refugee family – as well as doing lots of yoga.

“I am aware that I’m living with cancer, but it doesn’t stop me living my life. There’s still so much I want to do, and I hope that new treatments keep being discovered and developed.”

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