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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Survival gap for UK cancer patients
Radiotherapy screens
Investment is being made in new equipment
The UK is worse than most of its European neighbours when it comes to cancer survival rates, a study has found.

Only eastern European countries fare worse in the league tables published on Thursday.

The Eurocare study revealed that France and Austria have the best five-year survival rates- and that Poland has the worst.

Cancer survival is heavily influenced by factors such as the speed the cancer is diagnosed, and the treatments available to patients, say experts.

Early findings from the study, which looked at countries from Scandinavia to eastern Europe, were presented to the European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen.

The researchers analysed data from 22 countries, covering 42 kinds of cancer.

There are fewer cancer specialists in Britain than in many of the other comparative countries in western Europe
Professor Michel Coleman, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
It looked at five-year survival in 1.8m adult cancer sufferers and 24,000 children diagnosed between 1990 and 1994 and followed until 1999.

In overall survival rates for men, England, Scotland and Wales were ranked 11th to 13th.

For women, the countries were ranked 12th to 14th.

Individual cancer patterns

Although the study does rank countries, the researchers said the aim was not to create league tables, but to show where survival rates could be improved, and how other countries had achieved better results.

Professor Michel Coleman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the report's authors, told BBC News Online that although the UK, divided into England, Scotland and Wales for the study, came below the overall European average when survival rates for all cancers were considered together, it performed better in some individual cancers.

He said: "Survival for melanomas, testicular caner, Hodgkin's Disease and cervical cancer are all very close to, or just above, the European average.

"It's also true that for breast cancer, survival rates are lower in the UK than the EU average.

"But survival rates are somewhat better than they have in comparable European countries, and the gap between the UK and the European average has narrowed as a result."

Differences were also identified between individual UK countries. Scotland was found to have far better survival rates for skin cancer than England or Wales, which Professor Coleman said was due to early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

But he said that to improve survival rates overall, several factors had to be addressed, including public understanding of what the early symptoms of cancer were because the stage at which a person was diagnosis affected their chances of survival.

"One of the reasons why people don't get diagnosed is that people wait with symptoms of malignancies before they go to see the doctor."

But he added: "There are fewer cancer specialists in Britain than in many of the other comparative countries in western Europe."


He said he hoped the millions which had been invested into cancer care would have an effect.

"There's nothing wrong with British physicians, surgeons, radiotherapists.

"What's required is to make sure that we have enough of them and that there are enough resources to deliver the quality of healthcare everyone knows that we have the ability to provide."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "This is old data that does not represent the quality of cancer care in this country.

"The period covered is five years before the NHS Cancer Plan so gives no indication of the improvements across all aspects of cancer care that we have seen since the Plan was published in 2000."

He added: "Patients treated for cancer in the NHS today face shorter waiting times, have access to new drugs and are diagnosed and treated using the most modern equipment.

"This study does shows exactly why action was needed to improve cancer services in this country and the actions set out in the Cancer Plan mean that England will have the fastest improving cancer services in Europe.

"Survival rates for all the major cancers are increasing and the latest data shows that the death rate from cancer has fallen by nearly 9% since1996."

European Cancer Survival
% of patients alive five years after diagnosis
Prostate Breast Skin* Colon (F) Colon (M) All (M) All (F)
ENGLAND 53.8 73.6 85.6 46.2 45.7 37.1 50.8
SCOTLAND 53.6 72.3 90.1 47.2 45.3 35.6 49.5
WALES 48.8 69.5 79.1 36.5 40.1 34.7 47.3
Austria 83.6 75.4 88.2 58.4 N/A 47.5 57.9
Czech Rep. 50.1 64.0 78.1 36.4 38.1 32.3 46.0
Denmark 41.5 74.9 88.0 47.6 43.2 33.5 51.2
Finland 66.5 81.4 84.0 52.7 54.0 41.4 55.8
France 75.2 81.3 85.3 58.7 55.9 44.5 57.9
Germany 75.9 75.4 89.9 54.5 50.5 44.1 55.6
Iceland 76.2 79.6 90.9 55.2 45.9 N/A N/A
Italy 63.9 80.6 82.5 52.1 51.2 41.2 55.6
Malta 39.4 74.8 65.0 53.3 35.9 N/A N/A
Netherlands 68.4 78.2 87.7 54.0 51.9 42.7 55.7
Norway 62.1 77.2 88.4 53.6 51.4 40.0 54.9
Poland 38.6 63.1 57.9 28.7 26.3 25.2 40.5
Portugal 44.0 71.9 68.9 43.5 49.0 N/A N/A
Slovenia 48.8 67.4 70.0 38.8 34.8 31.2 47.0
Spain 65.5 78.0 89.8 55.8 55.0 43.9 57.1
Sweden 67.4 82.6 90.6 54.4 52.2 42.5 57.6
Switzerland 67.0 80.0 91.0 56.3 55.0 43.5 56.7
EUROPE 65.4 76.1 84.3 51.0 49.2 40.5 53.6
Source: Eurocare study

*Melanoma skin cancer

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