UK cancer survival rate lowest in Europe
By Nicole Martin
Last Updated: 3:58am BST 21/08/2007
Cancer survival rates in Britain are among the lowest in Europe, according to the most comprehensive analysis of the issue yet produced.
European cancer survival rates
England is on a par with Poland despite the NHS spending three times more on health care.
Survival rates are based on the number of patients who are alive five years after diagnosis and researchers found that, for women, England was the fifth worst in a league of 22 countries. Scotland came bottom. Cancer experts blamed late diagnosis and long waiting lists.
In total, 52.7pc of women survived for five years after being diagnosed between 2000 and 2002. Only Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Czech Republic and Poland did worse. Just 44.8pc of men survived, putting England in the bottom seven countries.
The team, writing in The Lancet Oncology, found that Britain's survival rates for the most common cancers - colorectal, lung, breast and prostate - were substantially behind those in Western Europe. In England, the proportion of women with breast cancer who were alive five years after diagnosis was 77.8pc. Scotland (77.3pc) and Ireland (76.2pc) had a lower rate.
Rates for lung cancer in England were poor, with only 8.4pc of patients surviving - half the rate for Iceland (16.8pc). Only Scotland (8.2pc) and Malta (4.6pc) did worse.
Fewer women in England lived for five years after being diagnosed with cervical cancer (58.6pc) despite a national screening programme. This compared to 70.6pc in Iceland. Dr Franco Berrino, who led the study at the National Cancer Institute in Milan, said cancer care was improving in countries that recorded low survival figures. He added: "If all countries attained the mean survival (57pc) of Norway, Sweden and Finland, about 12pc fewer deaths would occur in the five years after diagnosis."
His co-researcher, Prof Ian Kunkler from the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, said waiting lists for radiotherapy were partly to blame.
"Although there has been a substantial investment in radiotherapy facilities, there is still a shortfall," he said.
"We have good evidence that survival for lung cancer has been compromised by long waiting lists for radiotherapy treatment."
A second article, which looked at 2.7 million patients diagnosed between 1995 and 1999, found that countries that spent the most on health per capita per year had better survival rates.
Britain was the exception. Despite spending up to £1,500 on health per person per year, it recorded similar survival rates for Hodgkin's disease and lung cancer as Poland, which spends a third of that amount.
An accompanying editorial said the figures showed that the NHS Cancer Plan, published in 2000, was not working.
"Survival in England has only increased at a similar rate to other European countries and has not caught up with the absolute values seen elsewhere," it said.
Prof Richard Sullivan at Cancer Research UK said: "Cancer is still not being diagnosed early enough in all cases."
Highest rate of survival= USA at 63%
lowest rate of survival = Scotland at 48%
Highest rate of survival=USA at 66%
Lowest rate of survival=Slovenia 37%