New treatments have played a role as well as earlier diagnosis and screening.
But Cancer Research UK, which carried out the research, said the progress showed there needed to be new, more ambitious aims.
It said it wanted to see 10-year survival hit 75% in the next 20 years.
And it promised to increase investment in research by half within the next decade to help achieve that.
Researchers said cancer need no longer be viewed as the “death sentence” it once was with the new figures suggesting a “tipping point” had been reached.
The analysis showed that in 1971-2, 50% of people diagnosed with cancer died within a year. Now 50% survive for at least a decade – up from 24% in 1971-2.
But the findings, based on the outcomes for more than 7 million patients, also showed that for some cancers, survival rates were still very low.
For example, just 1% of pancreatic cancer patients and 5% of lung cancer patients can expect to survive for 10 years.
Nonetheless, the overall figures showed there had been significant progress in the way cancer was treated.
The findings have been adjusted to take into account the changing profile of new cancer being diagnosed – there has been a shift away from the more deadly disease such as lung cancer to ones where survival rates tend to be better – so provide a measure of how the care of cancer patients has improved.
Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar said: “I don’t think we would ever have expected to achieve what we have. We’re gradually reversing the tide on this devastating disease.
“But many people still do not survive – we must tackle that.”
Researchers said there were a number of reasons for the success, which includes earlier diagnosis.
But if progress is going to continue – and the 75% target achieved – Cancer Research UK identified key areas to focus on. These included investment in personalised cancer treatment, reducing smoking rates and paying particular attention to the cancers with the lowest survival rates.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health, which has itself set targets to improve cancer survival rates in the coming years, said: “We share Cancer Research UK’s aspirations for the UK to be the best place in the world to survive cancer.
“We have seen significant improvements in some cancer survival rates, with new and innovative research and earlier diagnosis at the heart of this upward trend.”
Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45