Over two million years of life are lost to cancer in the UK every year, a study from Cancer Research UK has found.
Researchers at King’s College London used the age at which cancer patients died from their disease and life expectancy and found an annual average figure of years of life lost of 2.3 million between 2013 and 2017.
Writing in the British Journal of Cancer, they said it was the first time the charity has done such an analysis which they said highlights the impact of the disease on patients and families.
Around a fifth of the total lost years, more than 500,000 per year, are from lung cancer, due to the high number of people diagnosed and poor survival, the study showed.
More than 213,000 years of life are lost to bowel cancer each year and around 197,000 to breast cancer, the team reported.
This type of analysis also shows that cancer types like liver, melanoma and kidney have had increases in rates of years of life lost over the past few decades, because of increases in numbers of cases.
For other cancers, like testicular, the results showed a smaller number of lost years overall because they are less common – but their impact on individuals is substantial, the researchers noted because it is usually diagnosed in younger people.
But the study also found some signs of progress, for example the total number of years of life lost to cervical cancer in 1988 was around 43,600 which fell to 21,800 by 2017 because of the impact of cervical screening.
While the overall numbers of years of life lost per year to all cancers combined has risen since the 1980s because of a growing population, the rate of years of life lost each year has decreased by 15%, they reported.
Study leader Dr Judith Offman said: ‘Measuring years of life lost over a 30-year period provides a different lens to evaluate where health policies and advances in treatment have worked and highlight areas where more needs to be done.
‘Research like this is instrumental in helping leaders in health and politics make the best decisions for patients and their loved ones.’
More progress could be made through measures to prevent more cancers by addressing issues such as smoking and obesity, the team added.
It comes as an analysis by the British Liver Trust found rates of liver cancer are rising dramatically across the country and particularly in areas of economic deprivation.
In England, liver cancer incidence is highest in both men and women living in the most deprived areas with around 800 men and 370 women diagnosed each year – double the rate of people living in the least deprived areas.
Over the past decade, incidence rates and the number of people dying from liver cancer in the UK have risen rapidly by 45% and 40% respectively, the figures showed, highlighting the need for regular screening in those at risk.
Professor Stephen Ryder, hepatologist and medical advisor to the British Liver Trust said: ‘The symptoms of liver cancer can be hard to spot in its early stages. They can include fatigue, unintended weight loss, swelling or pain in the abdomen and jaundice.
‘But the biggest risk factor for HCC, the most common form of primary liver cancer, is pre-existing liver disease such as cirrhosis so it’s crucial that anyone with liver disease is regularly screened for liver cancer.’