UK cancer survival improves but lags in international comparison

CANCER survival rates have improved but the UK still lags behind other high-income countries, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology.

The study looked at 3.9 million cancer cases between 1995 and 2014 in seven comparable countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.

The analysis by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which is managed by Cancer Research UK, looked at changes in cancer survival alongside incidence and mortality for cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary. The choice of these three key measures is intended to allow better understanding of how countries like the UK compare in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of different cancers.

The study found that one-year and five-year survival has improved across all seven cancer types in the UK over the 20-year period. Five-year survival for rectal cancer in the UK rose by 14 per cent, from 48 to 62 per cent.

The UK also has seen a 12 per cent increase in five-year survival for colon cancer. One-year survival for lung, ovarian and oesophageal cancer all increased by around 15 per cent in the last 20 years.

However, despite progress, the UK remains near the bottom of the rankings in cancer survival.

Cancer Research UK’s clinical adviser, John Butler, who co-authored the study and is a consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden, said: "There isn’t one specific reason why survival in the UK has improved - it’s a combination of many different factors. Over the last twenty years we’ve seen improvements in cancer planning, development of national cancer strategies and the rollout of new diagnostic and treatment services.

"For lung, ovarian, and oesophageal cancer in particular, survival has increased largely because the quality of surgery has radically improved, and more surgery is taking place than before. More people are being looked after by specialist teams, rather than surgeons who aren’t experts in that area. But while we’re still researching what can be done to close the survival gap between countries, we know continued investment in early diagnosis and cancer care plays a big part. Despite our changes we’ve made slower progress than others."