Healthy living

UK falls behind in cancer survival

UK falls behind in cancer survival Latest cancer figures

UK cancer survival rates still lag behind those in other developed countries, a major new study reveals.

Cancer survival rates at one and five years are higher in other high-income countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden than in the UK.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed cancer data from 2.4 million patients in six countries, including the UK between 1995 and 2007.

They compared one and five year cancer survival rates for four different cancers: breast, bowel, lung and ovarian.

The proportion of cancer patients surviving one year was persistently higher in Australia, Canada, and Sweden, and lower in Denmark, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Norway fell somewhere in between.

For the most recent period - 2005 to 2007 - the UK had the worst bowel, lung and breast cancer five-year survival rates of any of the six countries.

When it came to lung cancer, 8.8 per cent of UK patients survived five years, compared with 18.4 per cent in Canada.

During the same period, 53.6 per cent of bowel cancer patients were alive after five years, compared with 65.9 per cent in Australia.

Although survival rates for breast cancer have improved, they have still to match those in other comparable countries.

Late diagnosis and different cancer treatment may be behind the gap in survival rates, the researchers said.

The researchers concluded: “Up-to-date survival trends show increases but persistent differences between countries, which are broadly consistent with trends in cancer incidence and mortality.

"Data quality and changes in classification are not likely explanations. The patterns are consistent with late diagnosis or differences in treatment, particularly in Denmark and the UK, and in patients aged 65 years and older.”

Sara Hiom, Director of Health Information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s encouraging to see that survival for breast, bowel, lung, and ovarian cancers has improved across the board and this study shows how far survival has improved for some of the most common cancers in the UK.

"But we still have work to do. Now we know how we currently compare to other countries, we must look at exactly why these differences in survival exist."

The findings are published online in the Lancet journal.

This article was published on Wed 22 December 2010

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