Cancer ‘like a rollercoaster you don’t get off’ says patient as survival rates increase

Maria Hewkin, who had cancer, has described the illnesss as a 'rollercoaster you never get off'. For

Maria Hewkin, who had cancer, has described the illnesss as a 'rollercoaster you never get off'. For EDP Norfolk EDP pics © 2015 (01603) 772434 - Credit: Archant

Earlier detection and new drugs are among key factors that have contributed to an increase in cancer survival rates.

New figures show more patients are staying alive despite their diagnosis – with the survival rate now at around 70pc.

That is approximately a 10pc rise in the last 15 years across England.

Cancer expert Dylan Edwards, of the University of East Anglia (UEA), said he expected the number to keep increasing in the next decade.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show a steady rise in survival rates across East Anglia.


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The statistics cover the period 1999-2014.

The biggest rise in Norfolk came in the north of the county (9.4pc), where rates improved from 61.6pc to 71pc.

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Rates increased even higher in West Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (both by 9.8pc).

The figures show Great Yarmouth and Waveney, and Ipswich and East Suffolk, experienced the slowest rise (7.2pc and 5.2pc respectively).

Prof Edwards, executive dean of the UEA's Faculty for Medicine and Health Sciences, said: 'There are many things that have changed in the last 15 years. For example targeted therapies, and access to new drugs that are specifically for working on particular sorts of cancer.'

He said Herceptin (used to treat certain forms of breast cancer) was having an impact on treatment.

Prof Edwards also said cancer is being detected earlier, which improves the chances of survival.

'I think people are more vigilant now and things like mammography and colorectal screening is being used more,' he said. 'Government targets to get patients access to treatment faster have also helped.'

Prof Edwards expects the survival rate to slow as 'we have been coming from quite a poor standard previously'. 'But there are new therapies that are working to activate the immune system which are powerful and can be used in combination with other treatments,' he added.

Vivekanandan Kumar, cancer clinical lead at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, added: 'Treatments have developed in a multitude of ways, including the utilisation of more advanced imaging technology, the expansion of complex surgical techniques and the variety and combined mix of treatment tools now available to clinicians when selecting appropriate treatments for patients.'

Cancer 'a rollercoaster you don't get off' - Patient

Having cancer is a 'rollercoaster you never really get off', according to one mother-of-three who survived the illness.

Maria Hewkin, 54, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 as a 37-year old, and went through both chemotherapy and radiotherapy en route to a clean bill of health.

She had a lumpectomy (part of the breast removed) before opting for breast reconstruction surgery in 2005.

But she chose to have a double mastectomy (both breasts removed) in 2008 as she feared the disease may strike there again in future.

To this day the experience of having cancer affects her.

'I don't think you ever get off the rollercoaster of having cancer, but mentally it does make you stronger,' she said.

'At the time I just dealt with it, it's only later that I started to reflect on what I actually went through.' She said she was glad she made the decision to have the double mastectomy and said the last few years 'have been fantastic'.

'It was a decision I made with the full support of my husband and the whole experience has brought our family closer together,' she added.

Have you got a story about cancer? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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