European cancer survival continues to improve

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new Europe-wide report in the Lancet Oncology has revealed improvements in cancer survival and has predicted that the current large variations in survival between different nations may soon be reduced.

However, the EUROCARE report also reveals that cancer survival in the UK is still below the European average and is similar to some eastern European countries that spend less than a third of the UK's healthcare budget per person.

According to the report, the Nordic countries - excluding Denmark - and central Europe come top of the table for survival for bowel, lung, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers, followed by southern Europe, the UK and Ireland, and eastern Europe.

However, cancer experts have noted that much of the data contained in the report was collated before major investments were made in UK cancer care.

The government introduced the Cancer Plan in 2000 following public reaction to the first EUROCARE report, which had placed the UK near the bottom of the European 'league table', and some critics have argued that the latest figures suggest the plan is failing to have an impact.

However, Professor Richard Sullivan, Cancer Research UK's director of clinical programmes, said that the report showed "encouraging improvements for the UK". "While there are genuine differences in the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients between the UK and other European countries, the degree of that difference remains uncertain. Comparisons between countries are difficult because survival data are not collected in the same way in all places," he said.

"Partly as a result of the political impetus provided by the first EUROCARE study, the NHS Cancer Plan was published to reorganise, standardise and rejuvenate cancer services. Although these figures don't cover much time since the Cancer Plan was introduced, they show how it had already begun to make a difference," he insisted.

However, Professor Sullivan noted that cancer is still not being diagnosed early enough in all cases, and that patients need to be assured of access to the best surgery, radiotherapy and other treatments.

He added: "This study shows that cancer is certainly not a 'ticked box'. We need a sustained effort to beat the disease."

The Department of Health has also defended the national cancer plan, insisting that "great improvements" have been made.

A spokesperson revealed: "We are currently working with people from across the field of cancer to develop a new Cancer Reform Strategy, which will set out the plans for cancer services in England over the next five to ten years, building on progress so far by spreading best practice and recommending what more needs to be done to improve clinical outcomes, drive up quality and increase value for money."