The number of people in their 50s dying prematurely from cancer in the UK has fallen below 14,000 for the first time in 40 years according to new Cancer Research UK figures published today.
The latest statistics show that cancer deaths in 50-59 year olds have dropped from over 21,300 in 1971 to under 14,000 in 2010 - which equates to a drop in rates of 40 per cent.
The rates of people in their 50s dying from cancer have dropped from around 310 deaths in every 100,000 in 1971 to around 185 in every 100,000 in 2010.
The proportion of people in their 50s who die from stomach cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma has fallen by over three-quarters with around 25 in every 100,000 people dying from stomach cancer in 1971 dropping to 4.2 in 2010 and more than 2 in every 100,000 people dying from Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1971 compared to 0.5 per 100, 000 in 2010.
For men, the cancers which have seen the biggest fall in deaths rates are stomach, Hodgkin's lymphoma, testicular and lung. And, for women, death rates have fallen the most for cervical, stomach, Hodgkin's lymphoma and bowel cancers.
The dramatic drop in 50-59 year olds dying from cancer is likely to be due to a combination of factors. For example, better chemotherapy has led to improved survival in testicular cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma. And other factors include falling smoking rates, the introduction of screening, better treatments such as tamoxifen, more effective radiotherapy and many new drugs and better delivery of cancer diagnosis and treatment by the NHS.
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician 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. 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. Our research has been critical to this progress, and the pace continues to increase as we bring the knowledge from our laboratories into the clinic more and more, and carry out the clinical trials to show which treatments are best."
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "It is thanks to the generosity of the public who fund all our research and the dedicated work of all our doctors and scientists that we are seeing such encouraging reductions in the number of middle aged people dying prematurely from cancer.
"But there is still so much more to do. Smoking remains the largest cause of cancer which is why Cancer Research UK is petitioning the government to bring in plain packaging of tobacco so children are less likely to be seduced by the sophisticated marketing techniques designed to make smoking attractive to youngsters.
"We must also continue in our efforts to ensure our research keeps finding new ways to treat cancer so that it becomes a disease people live with rather than die from, irrespective of the type of cancer or their age."