More than 500,000 people in UK will get cancer every year by 2040, charity warns

The number of new cancer cases in the UK will rise by a third by 2040

More than 500,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer every year by 2040, figures show.

New analysis by Cancer Research UK warns that cancer cases will rise from 384,000 cases diagnosed per year now to 506,000 in 2040 - a rise of a third - if current trends continue.

It will take the number of new cases every year to more than half a million for the first time and could risk overwhelming the NHS due to the sheer volume of patients, unless the government takes action, the charity said.

Most of the rise is due to an ageing population, as older people are more likely to get cancer, but the charity also said other health issues, such as obesity, are contributing to the rise. Around four in 10 cancer cases are preventable, with the two biggest preventable causes being smoking and being overweight or obese.

Cancer Research said smoking could cause around one million cancer cases in the UK between now and 2040, adding that more people are expected to be obese than a healthy weight. Its figures show there will be 208,000 overall cancer deaths in the UK each year by 2040 – an increase of almost a quarter from the 167,000 seen now.

More than 500,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer every year by 2040 (Photo: Getty Images)More than 500,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer every year by 2040 (Photo: Getty Images)
More than 500,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer every year by 2040 (Photo: Getty Images)

In total, there could be 8.4 million new cases of cancer and 3.5 million cancer deaths in the UK between 2023 and 2040. Some 60% of cases - up from 50% now - and 76% of deaths will be in people aged 70 and over, it added.

The figures show that the number of people diagnosed with kidney cancer every year is projected to increase by 61% between 2017-2019 and 2038-2040, from around 13,600 to around 21,900.

Over the same period, the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer is projected to rise by 55%, from around 54,800 to around 85,100, while the number of women dying from womb cancer could rise by 68% between 2018-2021 and 2038-2040, from around 2,500 to around 4,200.

Deaths from liver cancer are projected to jump from around 6,000 to around 9,500 every year, and skin cancer cases and pancreatic cancer cases will also rise.

‘Government must start planning now’

The charity said the figures should come as a warning to the government as there will be more people needing care. It also said cancer survival in the UK lags behind that of comparable countries and the NHS is not on track to achieve its ambition of diagnosing 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028.

The government’s recently announced Major Conditions Strategy – which replaces a previously promised 10-year cancer plan – is “also unlikely to provide the road map required to achieve this goal”, it said.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, added: “Today’s analysis provides a stark reminder of the challenges the NHS in England is set to face in years to come. Cancer patients are already facing unacceptably long waits for diagnosis and treatment, and staff in cancer services are working very hard.

“On World Cancer Day, we are demanding that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, provide long-term, lasting solutions to ensure cancer survival dramatically improves in England.

“A 10-year cancer plan that will prepare cancer services for the future, give people affected by cancer the care they deserve and the resources – people and equipment – the NHS needs, is essential.”

The charity said action was needed to prevent more cancers, to diagnose and treat cancers faster, invest in research and innovation, and address the “chronic” staff and equipment shortages within the NHS.

It said the UK was not on track to meet its target of creating a Smokefree England by 2030, while junk food marketing restrictions have been “pushed back” even further. Being overweight is already known to cause around 22,800 cases of cancer every year in the UK, while drinking alcohol causes around 11,900 cases and not eating enough fibre causes around 11,700 cases.

Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, Professor Charles Swanton, said: “Right now, the NHS is just about treading water. By the end of the next decade, if left unaided, the NHS risks being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new cancer diagnoses.

“It takes 15 years to train an oncologist, pathologist, radiologist or surgeon. The government must start planning now to give patients the support they will so desperately need.

“I’m hopeful that through investment and reform in the health service and advancements in research, future numbers of cancer cases might not be as high as these projections warn. But if the government doesn’t act now to prepare for this demand, there’s a risk that our hard-fought progress in cancer survival could go into reverse.”