Deaths from breast cancer could be eradicated by the middle of the century relegating the disease to that of a chronic illness, according to one of the country’s leading cancer charity campaigners.
“We believe that if we act now, by 2050 anyone who develops breast cancer will live, even if it spreads to another part of the body. We would manage it like a chronic illness,” said Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now.
But she warned that this would only be achieved with greater investment in research and treatments.
“If we are really serious about creating the best future for cancer patients then we need to be clear – we do need to invest more,” she told the Annual Cancerkin Lecture at the Royal Free Hospital in London earlier this month.
She acknowledged that great progress had been made over the last 20 years in early detection and diagnosis, targeted treatments and knowledge of risk factors.
The introduction of new drugs like herceptin had “revolutionised treatment”, while advances in surgical practices and radiotherapy had transformed patient care.
This had led to a reduction of annual mortality rates over the same period – from 15,000 to 11, 500.
“But much more needs to be done,” she said, pointing out that UK survival rates were lower than the European average.
“Despite progress breast cancer is not the ‘done deal’. We still see 11,500 dying every year, that’s 11,500 mothers, sisters, daughters.”
There was a “patchy quality” in the UK in terms of waiting times and standards of care: “Who you are and where you live really influences the access and quality of care. We need to work on this.”
Baroness Morgan, a crossbench peer, added: “We have some of the best clinicians and scientists in the world but we have real barriers that are preventing them from getting access to the best tools to do the job properly.”
She was also concerned about the “increasing gap” developing between the advances made in the research setting and the ability to translate these to the patient.
And referring to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, the government body that approves the use of medications, she revealed that in its last 10 appraisals of breast cancer drugs it had delivered “10 no’s”.
“We have got to change the system.”
The good news was that there has been “a shift in the mood music” about public spending: “The Office of Budget Responsibility recently reported from their point of view we can afford to spend a lot more of our GDP on health.”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt had also made it “very clear that he wants cancer care to be the best in Europe”.
In the meantime, her own charity is leading the way in research to build on what has already been achieved.
“I believe that the progress we make over the next 20 years will be as mind blowing as hand-held computers are now,” she concluded.
Cancerkin, which is based at the Royal Free, offers a range of services to cancer patients. It merged with Maggie’s earlier this year and is now known as Maggie’s at the Cancerkin Centre. For more info tel 0207 830 2323
This article first appeared in the Camden New Journal, October 13 2016