Bri­tain lag­ging be­hind at bot­tom of global league ta­bles for rates of can­cer sur­vival

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Laura Don­nelly Health ed­i­tor and Pa­trick Scott

BRI­TAIN is bot­tom of in­ter­na­tional league ta­bles for can­cer sur­vival and is lag­ging 20 years be­hind some coun­tries for some types of the dis­ease.

Re­search by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion on 4mil­lion pa­tients shows im­prove­ments have failed to keep pace with those in com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries. The global study shows that pa­tients in Bri­tain have the low­est sur­vival rates for five out of seven com­mon can­cers.

De­spite im­prove­ments in all coun­tries, the UK’S rel­a­tive po­si­tion now is sig­nif­i­cantly worse than the first study 30 years ago, when it fared worst in three out of seven can­cers.

Bri­tain is bot­tom of the ta­ble for bowel, lung, stom­ach, pan­cre­atic and rec­tal can­cer; sec­ond worst for oe­sophageal; and third worst for ovar­ian can­cer. It fol­lows Bri­tish re­search that found two in three cases of the dis­ease were not be­ing de­tected by GPS.

The new study, which cov­ers the pe­riod from 2010 to 2014, shows sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments across all seven high in­come coun­tries that were tracked. How­ever, the lag be­tween the UK and some of the other coun­tries is so large that for some can­cers it is two decades be­hind. Bri­tain’s five-year sur­vival rates for stom­ach can­cer stand at 20.8 per cent – worse than those of Nor­way, Canada, Aus­tralia and New Zealand two decades ago.

The best-per­form­ing coun­try, Aus­tralia, now has five-year sur­vival stand­ing at 32.8 per cent, a gap that has widened since the study be­gan.

For ovar­ian can­cer, UK five-year sur­vival is 37.1 per cent, which is on a par with Nor­way’s rates 20 years ago. In Nor­way, the sur­vival rate now stands at 46.2 per cent.

For bowel can­cer, UK sur­vival is 58.9 per cent, com­pared with 70.1 per cent in Aus­tralia.

The lat­est pub­lished rates in Bri­tain are worse than those in Aus­tralia or New Zealand in the Nineties. Sur­vival rates from pan­cre­atic can­cer are al­most half of those in Aus­tralia, at 7.9 per cent, com­pared with 14.6 per cent. UK lung can­cer sur­vival rates are now 14.7 per cent – worse than those in Canada 20 years be­fore.

The lag comes de­spite im­prove­ments in can­cer sur­vival in the UK, fol­low­ing re­peated at­tempts to en­sure pa­tients were di­ag­nosed sooner. The great­est im­prove­ments were seen in rec­tal can­cer, where five-year sur­vival

rates rose by 14.3 per cent over the pe­riod, with an 11.9 per cent im­prove­ment seen for bowel can­cer.

In June, a study by the Can­cer Re­search UK char­ity found two in three cases of can­cer were not be­ing picked up by GPS.

Just 37 per cent of all can­cer di­ag­noses in Eng­land in­volved pa­tients who had been given an ur­gent re­fer­ral by their GP be­cause the dis­ease was sus­pected. Other cases waited far longer to re­ceive a di­ag­no­sis and the start of treatment, the study found.

The lat­est re­search was car­ried out by the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Can­cer, an agency of the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Sara Hiom, Can­cer Re­search UK’S di­rec­tor of early di­ag­no­sis, said: “We re­ally need to re­dou­ble our efforts on early di­ag­no­sis.”

She said GPS were still miss­ing too many cases and even when can­cer was sus­pected, short­ages of hos­pi­tal staff meant long de­lays for di­ag­noses. “GPS are strapped for time and don’t al­ways take the right his­tory and ask enough questions to take the right re­fer­ral route,” she said.

“The UK tends to di­ag­nose later than com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries and one of the key rea­sons is a lack of di­ag­nos­tic ca­pac­ity – in par­tic­u­lar short­ages in the work- force, of en­do­scopists, of ra­di­ol­o­gists and ra­dio­g­ra­phers and of pathol­o­gists.”

Around half of all can­cers are di­ag­nosed at stage three or four – when dis­ease has spread and is more dif­fi­cult to treat. Last year, when she was prime min­is­ter, Theresa May pledged to en­sure that within a decade, three in four Bri­tons with can­cer were di­ag­nosed at an ear­lier point.

But key NHS can­cer tar­gets have been re­peat­edly missed, with a flag­ship target to treat pa­tients within two months not achieved since 2013.

A spokesman for the NHS said: “This re­port is based on out-of-date data and in the five years since the study’s re­search ends, can­cer sur­vival has ac­tu­ally hit a record high, thanks to im­prove­ments in NHS can­cer ser­vices, in­clud­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of revo­lu­tion­ary treat­ments like pro­ton beam ther­apy and im­munother­apy.”

The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal Lancet On­col­ogy.

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