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