UK cancer survival trails Europe

Cancer Research UK

Survival for UK cancer patients is lower than in much of Europe, according to a new report.  

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) reports that on average, the UK is 8th lowest in Europe for cancer patients being alive 5 years after a cancer diagnosis. The UK is also behind the European average for survival for 9 of the most common kinds of cancer.

“Five year cancer survival in the UK has improved but overall we still lag behind other similar countries.” - Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said that if survival is to improve, the UK needs to get better at diagnosing and treating cancer earlier.

The report also states that the UK spends relatively less on cancer than the European average.

Dr Richard Torbett, executive director of the ABPI, claims: “[T]hat comparatively lower levels of UK investment in cancer is having on the quality of care available to British patients.”

Cancer rates are increasing across the UK and Europe, driven largely by an ageing population. Survival is affected by many factors including how early a cancer is diagnosed and availability of effective treatments including surgery, radiotherapy and drugs. 

The report used information on survival up to 2007. While the UK has seen large improvements in survival in breast, prostate and testicular cancer, there are other cancers where progress has been slower.

According to the report, the UK has the second worst survival for lung and pancreatic cancer in Europe.

“Five year cancer survival in the UK has improved but overall we still lag behind other similar countries,” said Greenwood.  

“The report’s focus on the importance of data collection to better understand the value of new cancer drugs is welcomed, as is its call to find improved ways of making drugs available to patients that would benefit.”

It is hoped that the focus of the new Cancer Drugs Fund on data collection will improve the analysis of whether or not new drugs are cost-effective.

NHS England has a strategy to improve cancer prevention, early diagnosis and survival by 2020, but there have been warnings that targets are likely to be missed without significant investment in the diagnostic workforce.

“We are seeing that investment in cancer diagnosis and treatments like surgery, medicine and radiotherapy, in countries across Europe is leading to better survival,” said Torbett.