UK cancer survival rates still lagging behind Europe

Cancer survival rates in the UK are still lagging far behind those of other European countries, despite concerted efforts to improve the outlook for patients.

New analysis released today by cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support concluded that the UK’s five year survival rates was ‘stuck in the 1990s’, with people with lung, breast, colon and stomach cancer in the UK trailing ten years behind compared to continental patients.

The picture is gloomiest in lung cancer – survival rates in Austria the 1990s were better than the survival rates the UK has been able to achieve to date (14 per cent for Austrian patients diagnosed 1995-99 compared with 10 per cent for UK patients diagnosed 2005-09).

The global study, called CONCORD-2 looked at data from 2005-2009. It found people with lung cancer in Austria are almost twice as likely as patients in the UK to still be alive five years after their diagnosis (18 per cent compared with 10 per cent).

Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This analysis exposes the harsh reality that because UK cancer survival rates are lagging so far behind the rest of Europe, people are dying needlessly. Frankly, this is shameful.

“What we can see here is that better cancer survival rates are not unachievable. If countries like Sweden, France, Finland and Austria can achieve these rates, then the UK can, and should, bridge the gap.

Political parties are currently campaigning for the general election on 7 May, and Macmillan Cancer Support is urging them all to make cancer a top health priority and commit to improving UK cancer survival rates and outcomes in order to match the best in Europe.

Responding to the findings, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer Sean Duffy said: “We are diagnosing and treating more people than ever before in this country and as a result the NHS is helping more people than ever survive cancer.

“We have come on leaps and bounds since this 2009 data highlighted by Macmillan, but we have an ambition to save even more lives and it’s time to take a fresh look at how we can do better.”

Early diagnosis and Cancer Drugs Fund

The UK’s failure to diagnose cancers early is seen as one of the major stumbling blocks to greater progress. Targets to raise five year survival rates have now been added to England’s frontline clinical commissioning groups’ (CCGs) key objectives, and other measures – such as self-referral for diagnostic tests for patients suspecting cancer were also introduced this year.

Access to new cancer treatments is also a factor, and the UK has lagged behind other countries in this respect, until 2010, when England’s Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was set up. However the CDF is now in the process of being reformed, casting doubt on faster access to new cancer drugs.

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