Many countries around the world mark Brain Cancer Awareness month in May. The aim is to raise awareness of the disease, educate people about its symptoms, raise funds for research and empower everyone affected.
The brain is a complex part of the body; both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumours are of concern. In this short story, however, the focus is on malignant tumours. Although brain cancer is less common than many other cancers, on average in England, 11 people are diagnosed with brain cancer and 9 people die from brain cancer every day.
Incidence rates have increased steadily
In the last 32 years, brain cancer incidence rates have increased by 23% for men and 25% for women. In 2010, the incidence rate was 8 new cases per 100,000 men and 5 new cases per 100,000 women. This equates to nearly 2,300 newly diagnosed cases in men and just under 1,700 in women. The reasons for the increase in this relatively rare cancer are still under investigation.
Figure 1: Brain Cancer Incidence and Mortality, England, 1979-2010
Deaths have increased but survival has improved
Unlike most other cancers, brain cancer mortality rates have increased. In the last 32 years, the mortality rate from brain cancer has increased by 15% for men and almost 10% for women. In 2010, the rate was 6 deaths per 100,000 men and 4 deaths per 100,000 women, representing 1,850 deaths in men and 1,350 deaths in women.
Early diagnosis of brain cancer is important for effective treatment, but tumours in the brain are often only found when the disease is at a more advanced stage (NCIN, 2010). Still, improvements in diagnosis and treatments have helped improve short-term survival in adults, with the most recent data showing 42% of men and women diagnosed with brain cancer surviving for at least a year, compared with 24% thirty years ago (ONS, 2012). Longer-term survival has also improved with the most recent data showing 20% of women and 17% of men with the disease surviving five years or more after diagnosis compared with 10% thirty years ago.
Brain cancer in children
In children under 15 years old, brain cancer is the second most common cancer after leukaemia, accounting for 18% of all newly diagnosed childhood cancers (averaged across the last five years). There were 217 newly diagnosed cases in this age group in England in 2010. For cancer deaths in childhood, brain cancer is the most common, accounting for a third of deaths. There were 76 deaths in England from brain cancer in 2010 in children under the age of 15.
As well as improving the chances of survival, early diagnosis also reduces the likelihood of a child or young person with the disease developing a long-term disability. The HeadSmart campaign was launched in 2011 to raise awareness of brain tumour symptoms in children and young people and to reduce the time for diagnosis.
Figure 2: Cancer Incidence in Childhood (under 15), England, average 2006-2010
Figure 3: Cancer Mortality in Childhood (under 15), England, average 2006-2010
National Cancer Intelligence Unit (NCIN) (2010). Routes to Diagnosis. London: NCIN
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