The latest forecast is that the number of people in the UK who will get cancer during their lifetime will increase to nearly half the population by 2020.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the projected figures of 47% would put huge pressure on the NHS, yet those who do develop cancer would be less likely to die from the disease.

The Department of Health wants the NHS to save an extra 5,000 lives a year among cancer patients by 2014 to 2015.

In 1992 the proportion of people in the UK who got cancer during their life was 32%. This increased to 44% in 2010, an increase of a third. Macmillan said this figure would continue to rise over the next decade levelling off at around 47% between 2020 and 2030. The charity said this was likely to be an underestimate of the true risk facing people alive in 2020 as life expectancy increased and more people developed cancer.

To produce their figures Macmillan used data on cancer incidents, cancer mortality and deaths from all causes from across the UK. The charity found that many more people were surviving cancer compared to 20 years ago.  In 1992, 45,000 or 21% of those who had cancer did not die from the disease. This increased to 90,000 (35%) in 2010 and is predicted to rise to 4 in 10 people (38 by 2020.  Other causes of death are most commonly heart disease, respiratory disease or stroke.

Macmillan puts the increased survival rates from cancer down to a greater focus on early diagnosis, advances in cancer treatment and better cancer care.  The growth in the number of people getting cancer is explained by the fact that people are living longer, as the population ages the incidence of cancer rises.

Although the charity said the survival trend was encouraging it said there was growing evidence that many cancer patients did not return to full health after the gruelling treatment and the serious side effects of the disease. 

Professor Jane Mayer, Chief Medical Officer at the Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Many patients can be left with physical health and emotional problems long after treatment has ended. People struggle with fatigue, pain, immobility or an array of other troublesome side effects.  We need to manage these consequences for the sake of the patient but also for the sake of the tax payer.  We should plan to have more services to help people stay well at home rather than waiting until they need hospital treatment”.

Ciaran Devane who is the Chief Executive of the Macmillan Cancer Support said the predicted cancer incidents figures posed a herculean challenge for the NHS and for society.  “The NHS will not be able to cope with the huge increase in demand for cancer services without a fundamental shift towards proper after care, without more care delivered in the community and without engaging cancer patients on their own health.”  

Sean Duffy the NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Cancer said the NHS have been set the challenge of saving an additional 5,000 lives from the disease by 2014 to 2015. 

“We recognise that local NHS teams need to consider providing a new range of care services for cancer survivors to tackle their needs and improve their quality of life.” He added: “Through our strategic clinical networks for cancer, we aim to share best practice and develop clinical pathways that help deliver better outcomes for patients.” 

Cancer specialist Professor Greg Ruben from the Royal College of GPs said “This is welcome evidence that people are increasingly likely to survive cancer but a powerful reminder that survivors have complex needs that the Health Service particularly in Primary Care will need to respond to.”

Julie Crossley, a Medical Injury Lawyer at Ashton KCJ, commented: “It is quite alarming to think that half of us will get cancer in our lifetime, but with early diagnosis many of us will overcome the disease. The worrying issue is of course that there will be long term consequences of the cancer treatment which will require a much greater input by Primary Care Services which are already struggling to cope.”