The number of people surviving after treatment for oesophageal or stomach cancer has risen significantly in the last 10 years, according to new figures.
Nearly 50% of patients with stomach tumours and 45% of those with an oesophageal tumour live for three years after diagnosis compared with only about one third of patients a decade ago, an audit of thousands of sufferers found.
Together, oesophageal and stomach cancers are the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the UK, and affect around 13,500 people each year.
The new statistics are taken from the National Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Audit. It is the first time national data on three year survival rates for this patient group have been published.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said the audit includes information on more than 17,000 patients in England and Wales diagnosed between October 2007 and June 2009 and is the largest audit of its kind in the world.
Surgeons said the figures show that if patients are diagnosed early enough and have curative treatment their chances of long-term survival are stronger.
Stuart Riley, consultant gastroenterologist and member of the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), said: "Unfortunately, most patients with oesophageal or stomach cancer still report symptoms too late. We need to improve the early diagnosis of the disease to increase the proportion of patients eligible for curative treatment and improve survival rates even further."
The RCS said the improved results reflect better organisation of NHS cancer services in England and Wales. It said the centralisation of cancer services has allowed patients to have better access to the best available treatment.
Richard Hardwick, consultant surgeon and member of the Association of Upper GI Surgeons (AUGIS), said: "Survival of patients undergoing curative surgery for oesophageal or stomach cancer has improved significantly. Our next challenge is to reduce the rates of complications following these major operations so that our patients recover more quickly from their surgery."
The audit was commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership and carried out by a partnership between the Association of Upper Gastro-Intestinal Surgeons, the British Society of Gastroenterology, the Royal College of Radiologists, the Health and Social Care Information Centre and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.