Medical advances mean more of us are living to old age when illness is most prevalent.
The number of Britons diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime will rise to almost half by 2020, a health charity has warned.
The figure is increasing because more of us are living to old age, which is when the illness is most prevalent.
This is because of medical advances, such as the availability of drugs for heart disease and high blood pressure, along with improved living standards.
But because the elderly are more susceptible to cancer than other age groups, the numbers of new cases of the disease each year is now higher than ever before.
Figures also suggest, however, that more than a third will survive the disease.
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In 1990 one in three Britons developed cancer at some point during their lives.
By 2010 this figure had risen to 44 per cent, and by 2020 it will have increased further to 47 per cent, the charity Macmillan Cancer Support says.
There were 288,600 new diagnoses in England in 2010, the latest figures available, compared with 246,400 in 2000 and 212,700 in 1990.
A report by the charity warns that the Health Service will not be able to cope with the soaring numbers of patients.
It is concerned that the NHS is not doing enough to help patients cope with the debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy and other treatments which can cause heart disease, chronic pain, thinning of the bones and depression.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan, said: ‘Because of the progress in healthcare – ironically largely for conditions other than cancer – in only seven years nearly half the population will get cancer in their lifetime.
‘This poses 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 in their own health.
‘Until then the help and support that organisations such as Macmillan provide will become even more urgent and important to ensure no one faces cancer alone.’
Figures also show that survival rates have drastically improved and many sufferers now live until old age and die of another unrelated cause.
Around 65 per cent of patients will die from their cancer compared with 20 years ago when the figure was 80 per cent.
But the charity points out that although treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery have enabled more patients to survive, they can also leave them with side-effects for the rest of their lives.
These include heart problems, fatigue, joint pain, osteoporosis, loss of memory and depression, as well as long-term emotional problems such as feelings of worthlessness.
The charity is concerned that once patients are given the all-clear, they are forgotten about by the NHS.
Professor Jane Maher, the charity’s chief medical officer, 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 taxpayer.
‘We should plan to have more services to help people stay well at home, rather than waiting until they need hospital treatment.’