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Insight

Surprisingly, positive NHS cancer survival figures do not include mesothelioma

NHS Digital recently published increased survival rates in England for people diagnosed with cancer between 2015 and 2019 compared to those diagnosed between 2006 and 2010, from figures compiled by the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service.

The highest survival rate is for those with melanoma of the skin, with women with lung cancer making up the largest improvement in survival rates.

Unfortunately, however, the report highlights that survival remains stubbornly low for other forms cancer, notably mesothelioma, mainly caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. Only 6.3 per cent of men and 7.8 per cent of women who develop mesothelioma are still alive five years later.

Improved cancer survival is mainly due to advances in treatment and greater public awareness leading to earlier diagnosis. The NHS has run high-profile campaigns urging people with particular symptoms to see a doctor and more people now ask a GP to check out symptoms, such as a lump, bump or change in their general health, such as weight loss or onset of fatigue.

Sajid Javid recently declared a 'war on cancer' with the pledge to make cancer care in England the 'best in Europe' within a decade. But experts have highlighted understaffing in the cancer workforce - particularly a shortage of specialist cancer nurses that has left some hospitals struggling to give patients the chemotherapy they are meant to receive – as a major road block to Mr Javid's plans.

The industrial disease team finds these figures surprising since, anecdotally, we see so much better treatment for people with mesothelioma and would tentatively say survival rates have improved. Overall, the care and support available to patients and their families has improved enormously, generating at the very least a much more positive culture for those living with mesothelioma – better treatment, better care and widespread support for those affected by this terrible disease.

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