Middle-aged cancer deaths at 'all-time low'

Image caption,
Cancer can now be detected and treated earlier thanks to new and evolving screening methods

The number of people in their 50s dying prematurely from cancer in the UK has fallen to its lowest recorded level, figures reveal.

Cancer Research UK found there had been a 40% drop in cancer deaths among 50 to 59-year-olds, from more than 21,300 in 1971 to fewer than 14,000 in 2010.

The charity says this is thanks to better cancer screening and treatment but also fewer people smoking.

However, it says smoking remains the largest cause of cancer.

Tobacco is responsible for a fifth of cancers - or some 60,000 cases a year.

Other common culprits include obesity, alcohol and poor diets lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables, collectively responsible for 35,000 cases a year, figures suggest.

Experts believe just under half of all cancers combined are caused by avoidable life choices.

Huge progress

For men in their 50s, the cancers which have seen the biggest fall in deaths rates are stomach, Hodgkin's lymphoma, testicular and lung.

And for middle-aged women, death rates have fallen the most for cervical, stomach, Hodgkin's lymphoma and bowel cancers.

Prof Peter Johnson of Cancer Research UK said: "Our latest figures show that for the first time in the last four decades cancer deaths among people aged 50-59 have dropped below 14,000 a year.

"This is really encouraging news and it highlights the huge progress we have made. The reduction in people smoking has been a big help, and we are also better at diagnosing cancers early and better at treating them whether by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy."

But experts say there is still more to do to ensure cancer becomes a disease that people live with rather than die from.

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