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More cancer patients but higher survival rates

But, conversely, the risk of dying from cancer is actually decreasing, according to a report released on Monday by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

The increases are primarily due to demographic changes. There are increasing numbers of old people in the population, and old people tend to have more chronic diseases, said Pascale Strupler, director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, at a press conference on Monday.

The good news: the risk of dying from cancer decreased by 27% for women and by 36% for men over the 30-year period from 1983 to 2012.

In Switzerland, 9,000 men and 7,000 women die of cancer on average each year. Men die most frequently from lung cancer (22%), prostate cancer (15%) and colon cancer (10%), whereas women die of breast cancer (19%), lung cancer (15%) and colon cancer (10%). Children die most frequently of leukaemia and brain tumours.

Whereas most forms of cancer are occurring less often than in the past, more new cases of thyroid cancer and melanoma are being reported. And the number of women dying from lung cancer has doubled over the past 20 years, said Rolf Heusser, director of the National Institute for Cancer Epidemiology and Registration. This can be attributed to changes in women’s smoking habits in the past, when more women took up smoking, he said.

According to medical definition, a cancer patient is considered healed if there is no recurrence of the cancer in a five-year-period. Five-year survival rates vary by type of cancer, but today in Switzerland two thirds of cancer patients are still alive after five years.

Major advances have been made in the treatment of cancer in children. Children today have a greater than 80% chance of being healed and “have more than 70 years ahead of them”, said Claudia Kuehni, director of the Swiss Childhood Cancer Registry.

Data for the future

Combating cancer requires not only good technical support from doctors and nurses but also advances in research, according to the public health department’s Pascale Strupler. The basis for these advances is reliable data, Strupler said. “Publications like the Swiss Cancer Report deliver these data to us. Their value can’t be overestimated.”

Up until recently, cancer research has been hampered by Switzerland’s federalist system of government, in which each of the 26 cantons takes its own approach to data collection and reporting – if it supports data collection at all.

“Last Friday we took a big step forward,” said Strupler. The federal law on the registration of cancers, passed by the Swiss parliament on March 18, will require all cantons to contribute data on cancer to a central Swiss registry. Implementation of the law is planned for the beginning of 2019.

Ultimately, having good data will allow the Federal Statistical Office to deliver meaningful statistics on both a national and an international basis, as the statistical office director Georges-Simon Ulrich told swissinfo.ch.


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