UK cancer survival rates trail 10 years behind other European countries

lung cancer

This is perhaps unnecessarily depressing, even if true. What is important is Macmillan’s conclusion:

‘better prevention; swifter diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer’

Healthy eating, exercise and a positive attitude all play their part, as does early diagnosis. I thank my lucky stars that the extreme pain I was in alerted me to my cancer, even if it had reached stage 3 in just a few weeks. As lung cancer, the secondary associated with sarcoma, has such a poor record here, we can be doubly thankful.

Cancer survival rates in the UK are still lagging more than two decades behind those achieved in many European countries , according to new analysis by campaigners.

Macmillan Cancer Support, which conducted the study, said it was “shameful” that “people were dying needlessly” as it revealed the chances of surviving five of the most commonly occurring types of the disease in the UK trail at least 10 years behind many comparable European countries.

The Concord-2 global study looked at survival rates in 67 countries for patients diagnosed with lung, breast, colon and stomach cancers in 1995 to 1999, compared with levels in 2005 to 2009.

It acknowledged there had been improvements in rates in the UK – where cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years – but not enough to catch up with levels achieved in many European countries a decade earlier. Macmillan found that by comparison UK cancer survival rates were “stuck in the 1990s”.

One of the most stark examples was lung cancer, which only 7% of patients survived in the 1990s in the UK. The rate improved to 10% a decade later but this was still behind a 14% survival rate achieved in Austria in the 1990s. By the 2000s 18% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in Austria survived – almost twice the rate in the UK.

Five other European countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway) also recorded better survival rates for lung cancer in the 1990s than Britain in the 2000s.

A similar pattern emerged for breast cancer. In the past decade the survival rate was 81% in the UK – a level exceeded 10 years before in Sweden, France and Italy. For colon cancer six European countries (Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) had better survival rates in the 1990s than Britain achieved 10 years later. In the 2000s 19% of British patients diagnosed with stomach cancer survived. Better survival rates were recorded a decade earlier in Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden.

Macmillan said the figures showed that much better survival rates were achievable in the UK.

Its chief executive, Lynda Thomas, said: “Because UK cancer survival rates are lagging so far behind the rest of Europe, people are dying needlessly. Frankly, this is shameful. If countries like Sweden, France, Finland and Austria can achieve these rates, then the UK can and should, bridge the gap.”

The charity is urging political parties to commit to improving cancer survival rates in their election manifestos. Thomas called on politicians to “make cancer a top health priority and commit to improving UK cancer survival rates and outcomes in order to match the best in Europe”.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research said the overall survival rate had improved but much more needed to be done to improve survival rate, particularly for hard to treat cancers. “It’s vital that the government prioritises cancer and invests more into cancer services so our survival rates can match the best in the world,” she said. “And much more needs to be done to improve outcomes for cancers that are harder to treat such as lung cancer, where survival is one of the lowest in Europe.”

A Department of Health spokesman said cancer survival rates had improved after £750m of government investment, and survival rates were at “an all time high”.

“Thanks to a focus on earlier diagnosis, prioritising the latest radiotherapy treatments and ensuring better access to care, we are on track to save a projected 12,000 more lives this year,” he said.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee this month accused the government and NHS England of losing “momentum in the drive to improve cancer services in the last two years.” It added that while more people were getting cancer “ the resources available to support improvement have gone down”.

Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said the NHS was treating more people than ever before and “as a result” was helping “more people than ever to survive”.

The NHS had come on “leaps and bounds” since the 2009 data highlighted by Macmillan, he added. “But we have an ambition to save even more lives and it’s time to take a fresh look at how we can do better. This is why we have already established an independent taskforce to develop a new cancer strategy for the next five years. It will set out how to deliver the vision described in the NHS Five Year Forward View, which calls for action on three fronts: better prevention; swifter
diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer.”

from the Guardian, Matthew Weaver

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