Death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer combined have fallen by almost a third (30 per cent) in the last 20 years, according to the latest Cancer Research UK figures.

The figures during this period highlight how research has had an impact in beating cancer. 

Death rates for breast cancer have fallen by 38%, bowel cancer by 34%, lung cancer and prostate cancer by 21%.

Breast cancer scientists have been responsible for improving detection of the disease through screening, developing more specialist care and more effective treatments - such as improved surgery, radiotherapy and drugs like tamoxifen and, more recently, anastrozole and letrozole. Around 15,000 died of the disease 20 years ago compared with 11,600 now.

Research has also meant that fewer bowel cancer patients are losing their lives to the disease thanks to improved detection and the development of better treatments. Today almost 3,000 fewer people a year die from bowel cancer than 20 years ago. The recent introduction of bowel cancer screening is likely to further reduce mortality rates by ensuring more patients are diagnosed earlier. 

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s CEO, said: “Research continues to help save lives from cancer, and these figures offer renewed encouragement that progress continues.

“The UK remains a world leader in cancer research, responsible for many of the breakthroughs that have reduced the impact of cancer. But while the death rate for the four biggest cancer killers falls, it’s vital to remember that more needs to be done to help bring even better results over the next few years.