The search for a cancer cure is overshadowing “huge” progress being made in allowing sufferers of the disease to live longer, the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has warned.
Survival time from cancer has roughly doubled in a decade, with the average patient now living more than 10 years after first being diagnosed.
But experts said those focusing exclusively on a breakthrough to eliminate the disease meant positive advancements in treatment were being “masked”.
Just 28 per cent of people believe the disease can be controlled in the long-term, according to an ICR-commissioned YouGov poll of members of the public and cancer patients.
In comparison, 46 per cent of people said they believed heart disease can be managed in the long-term, and 77 per cent said the same for diabetes.
The survey, of 2,103 members of public and 366 patients, also found that only a quarter of people (26 per cent) think progress against cancer is being made.
The ICR is calling for more attention to be given to cancer’s ability to resist treatment, so that more people can live longer and survive cancer.
The organisation says that cures are not yet possible for many people with advanced cancer, but personalised treatment is greatly extending their lives.
Dr Olivia Rossanese, from The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Curing cancer will always be the Holy Grail of researchers and patients, but focusing exclusively on this risks masking the dramatic progress we are making against the disease, where even patients with advanced cancer are increasingly experiencing disease control in the long term with a good quality of life.
“By focusing overwhelmingly on cure, treatment has tended to be as aggressive as possible but in some patients there is a risk that that could drive cancer evolution, and the return of the disease in a more dangerous and less treatable form.
“We believe cancer should no longer be a case of ‘cure or nothing’. We know there’s a growing population of people who are living longer and better with cancer and that is something to celebrate.
“At the ICR, our aim is to discover many more anti-evolution treatments to overcome drug resistance, so we can not only cure a greater proportion of patients but also give others with advanced disease the chance of a much longer and better life.”
Only half of people questioned cancer evolution and drug resistance as one of the biggest challenges in cancer research and treatment.
And a third of the public and patient groups both wrongly believed that being given the “all-clear” means the disease has been cured, when it actually means it is undetectable at present but could return.
Barbara Ritchie Lines, from Birmingham, underwent eight years of treatment after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Her cancer is now undetectable.
She said: “When I first got diagnosed, I was told that I had maybe only 12 months – but it’s been 14 years, and here I am.”
Professor Paul Workman, ICR chief executive, said: “We believe it’s vital that we can take the public on this journey with us, by understanding that cancer is a hugely complex and evolving disease, and that we need to move beyond the old, binary ‘cure or nothing’ thinking to find innovative new ways of treating the disease that can give people a longer and better life.”