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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT


Best cancer treatment 'a human right'

Anti-cancer drugs have improved but can be expensive

Cancer patients in the UK are less likely to survive than their counterparts in other European countries and the US because less money is spent on treatment, according to a panel of specialists.

The panel is calling for a "human rights movement" on cancer to ensure equality of access to the best treatment.

The call comes as a UK gynaecologist provoked fury by advocating an end to NHS provision of cancer screening.

The group performed an analysis of European cancer care relating survival rates with health spending in each country.

The UK was found to be one of Europe's worst countries for cancer survival and one of the lowest spending on cancer treatment.

Health spending and cancer survival rates

Country Health spending as % of GDP Age-standardised cancer deaths per 100,000 people Five-year survival rates
Colon cancer Breast cancer
USA 12.7% N/A 60% 82%
Germany 10.5% 196.7 48% 68%
Switzerland 9.8% 182.1 51% 76%
France 9.6% 194.3 45% 72%
Netherlands 8.6% 206.8 50% 72%
Italy 7.6% 199.9 42% 72%
Spain 7.6% 179.8 46% 64%
Finland 7.5% 163.0 49% 75%
Sweden 7.2% 161.3 N/A N/A
UK 6.9% 206.5 36% 63%
Denmark 6.4% 226.5 38% 69%
Source: World Health Organisation, 1998; Berrino et al, 1995; Murray 1998; World Bank,1993

The results were presented at the Ninth International Congress on Anti-cancer Treatment (ICAT) in Paris on Thursday.

Dr David Khayat is chairman of the congress and a cancer specialist in Paris.

He said: "Cancer survival outcomes vary widely throughout Europe. There is an increasingly clear link between health care expenditure and cancer survival."

The panel used data published last year by the World Health Organisation.

It found that a patient with cancer of the colon living in Switzerland had a 51% chance of surviving for five years, whereas in the UK this figure was 36%.

In the US, the survival rate is as high as 60%, and death rate in the US was lower than for any of the European countries in all cancers except skin cancer.

The US spends the most on health - £2,313 per person each year compared with £779 in the UK, £1,222 in France and £1,333 in Germany.


The findings were presented by Professor Herbert Pinedo, a cancer specialist at Vrije University in Amsterdam.

[ image: The panel wants patients to press for better treatment]
The panel wants patients to press for better treatment
He said about a million people in the European Union are diagnosed with cancer each year, while more than 750,000 die of the disease annually.

Cancer is responsible for one in four deaths in the EU and is the second biggest killer after diseases of the heart and blood circulation system.

He said: "We recognise that funding is one of many factors influencing cancer outcomes. However, we believe the data suggest that current levels of funding across Europe are inadequate.

"With increased investment, mortality from cancer in the EU could be reduced using currently available interventions, techniques and knowledge."

He said that there were fewer cancer specialists per person in the UK than there were in France or Germany.

Spending on anti-cancer drugs was half of that in Germany and just over a third of that in France.


The panel called for patients to become more vocal with the backing of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

It wants governments and health care managers to "use resources for the most effective treatments, not the least expensive components".

The UK Cancer Research Campaign said patient power could cut the death rate from cancer in Britain.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the campaign, said: "It is shameful that Europe and the UK lag behind the US in cutting cancer death rates."

He added: "It's not a question of providing more cancer doctors in the UK, but of getting more co-ordination betwen cancer experts so we get more one-stop cancer shops."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Spending on cancer has increased in the last 19 months.

"One of the government's first decisions last year was to spend an extra £10m on breast cancer care and a further £10m has been made available for colorectal cancer services."

"Cancer accounts for 25% of all deaths in England.

The government wants to guarantee that by the year 2000 everyone with suspected cancer will see a specialist within two weeks of referral by their GP.

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