The number of people in their 50s dying prematurely from cancer in the UK has reached a record low, new figures have revealed.

Statistics published by Cancer Research UK show that cancer deaths in people aged between 50 and 59 dropped from over 21,300 in 1971 to under 14,000 in 2010.

For men, the cancers which have seen biggest fall in death rates are stomach, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, testicular and lung, while for women the biggest drop has been for cervical, stomach, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and bowel cancers.

The charity found that 185 in every 100,000 cancer sufferers in their 50s now die - compared to 310 four decades ago.

It said that the dramatic drop in death rates has been down to a combination of factors including better chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drugs, falling smoking rates, the introduction of screening and better delivery of cancer diagnosis and treatment by the NHS.

Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Our latest figures show that for the first time in the last four decades cancer deaths among people aged 50-59 have dropped below 14,000 a year.

“The reduction in people smoking has been a big help, and we are also better at diagnosing cancers early and better at treating them whether by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.”