UK cancer survival rates below European average

"Cancer survival in Britain the worst in Europe," The Daily Telegraph reports. This and many other similar headlines are prompted by a major new study on cancer survival rates in Europe from 1997 to 2007…

“Cancer survival in Britain the worst in Europe,” The Daily Telegraph reports.

This and many other similar headlines are prompted by a major new study on cancer survival rates in Europe from 1997 to 2007. 

While survival rates have tended to improve, cancer survival still varies widely between European countries. The lowest survival rates for most cancers were found in eastern Europe.

The study also found that the UK and Ireland has lower survival rates than the European average for many cancers, particularly of the colon, ovary, kidney, stomach and lung. The lung cancer survival rate in particular was far lower than for other regions. The UK has about average survival rates for cancer of the rectum, breast, prostate, melanoma of the skin and lymphomas.

Researchers say the main reason for low survival rates in the UK seems to be delayed diagnosis, underuse of successful treatments and unequal access to treatment, particularly among elderly people.

However, patient factors are not accounted for, such as the level of smoking, alcohol misuse and poor diet in the UK.

It could be the case that poor cancer care in the UK is not solely to blame for the below average cancer survival rates, but may also be related to the factors listed above.


Good news on children’s cancers

A related report from the EUROCARE study looked at survival rates for childhood cancers had better news. Figures for 2005-2007 show that survival for all childhood cancers combined is about 79%, up from 76% in 1999-2001, with the most striking increase being in eastern Europe.


Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from a number of centres across Europe including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK. It was funded by the European Commission, Italian Ministry of Health and the Cariplo Foundation.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Lancet Oncology.

Unsurprisingly, the research got wide coverage in the UK press, with the Mail Online pointing out that cancer survival rates in the UK were often on a par with former states of the eastern bloc and below comparable countries such as France and Germany. The Mail also included comments from NHS England as well as cancer charities, while The Guardian linked the study to a story about reported moves to raise awareness of cancer among older people.

The good news about the improvements in childhood cancer rates appears to have been ignored.


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