Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

UK lagging on cancer care success

Cancer drug therapy
Drug therapy has become more targeted and effective

The UK's track record of treating and curing cancer lags behind much of Europe, research shows.

Data from the EUROCARE 4 project for 1988 to 1999 found lower complete cure rates in England and Scotland than countries such as Italy and Spain.

Long-term survival rate data also placed the UK below the European average - for some cancers significantly so.

Experts said cure and survival rates in the UK had improved since the study.

Iceland: 46.6%
Switzerland: 39.9%
Italy: 37.0%
Spain: 36.3%
England: 34.5%
France: 32.6%
Scotland: 30.8%
Czech Republic: 26.6%
Slovenia: 23.7%
Poland: 21.3%
Figures for patients diagnosed, 1988-1999

For all cancers combined, 34.5% of men, and 49.8% of women in England were cured between 1988 and 1999. In Scotland, the figures were 30.8% for men, and 44.8% for women.

For men Iceland topped the list with a 47% cure rate, while in France and Finland 59% of women were cured.

Eastern European countries had the worst track record, with Poland recording the worst cure rate for both men (21%) and women (38%).

Cure was defined as having a life expectancy no longer any different to that of the general population.

Examining five-year survival rates up to 2004, the UK was below the general European average, and more than 5% below the average for cancers of the stomach, ovary, prostate, thyroid and kidney.

However, it performed better than average for cancers of the head, neck and larynx, malignant melanoma and testicular cancer.

Professor Michel Coleman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the UK's relatively poor showing was probably tied to a relative lack of investment in cancer services.

He said at the time of the study, UK investment was 6-7% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), compared to 9-11% on in many mainland European countries.

However, he said increased investment in recent years should soon start to see an improvement.

Dr Lesley Walker, of the charity Cancer Research UK, warned that shortcomings in data collection made it impossible to make direct comparisons between different countries.

She also stressed that the data pre-dated the introduction of the Cancer Plan in England in 2000, which had led to improvements in treatment.

Figures published last week suggested the plan has led to some improvement in survival rates.

"The early diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients does vary between the UK and other European countries, but the degree of these differences and why they exist remains uncertain.

"So we need to look closely at which areas we are lagging behind in and work out why."

Professor Mike Richards, the government's cancer tsar, said it was key that people sought medical help quickly if they suspected something was wrong.

Specific cancers

The EUROCARE study also found big variations across Europe for cure rates for specific cancers.

France: 58.6%
Finland: 58.0%
Sweden: 56.1%
Spain: 55.8%
Italy: 54.4%
England: 49.8%
Czech Republic: 47.3%
Slovenia: 44.9%
Scotland: 44.8%
Poland: 38.0%
Figures for patients diagnosed, 1988-1999

In France and Spain more than 10% of lung cancer patients were cured, but in Denmark, Czech Republic and Poland the figure was less than 5%.

Cure rates for prostate cancer ranged from more than 60% in France to only 14% in Denmark.

And for breast cancer, the cure rate was about 73% in Finland, Spain and Sweden, but only 60% in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia.

Experts put the disparity in prostate and breast cancer cure rates down to differences in screening policy.

The EUROCARE study also compared cure rates for patients diagnosed in 1988-1990 with those from 1997-1999 across 23 countries.

Cure rates rose across the board, with bowel cancer up from 42% to 49%, stomach cancer up from 15% to 18% and lung cancer up from 6% to 8%.

Age and sex differences

Data from the study also shows that survival rates among elderly people (aged over 70) were lower than those among middle-aged patients (55-69 years), with the gap widening.

Experts said this could be due to cancer being picked up at a more advanced stage in the elderly.

Women with cancer had a longer life expectancy than men for 21 out of 26 types of the disease.

Overall, women had a 52% chance of surviving cancer for at least five years, compared to 50% for men, with the gap narrowing among older people.

The researchers said differences in sex hormone patterns may play a key role in this gender difference.

The five-year survival rate was 81% for children aged up to 14 years, and 87% among the 15-24 age group, with the chances of dying within five years of diagnosis falling significantly in recent years.

Print Sponsor

UK 'lagging' on cancer survival
21 Aug 07 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific