Report shows UK lung cancer care improving, but more needs to be done

In collaboration with the Press Association

Lung cancer care has improved in England and Wales, data contained in the newly-published National Lung Cancer Audit Report 2006 reveals.

However, the report by the Information Centre for health and social care (IC) shows that despite a small increase in the number of patients receiving treatment compared to the previous year, the level still lags behind many other European nations and the US.

The report, which analysed 18,859 patients, shows that the number receiving anti-cancer treatment (surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy) has increased by five per cent to 48 per cent.

The number of patients having surgery remained at nine per cent as, for most, the disease was too advanced to operate.

However, the European average for surgery is 26 per cent among under-70s and 14 per cent for those over the age of 70, and more than 20 per cent of lung cancer patients in the US undergo surgery.

Despite the average age for lung cancer diagnosis being 71 for men and 72 for women, younger people in the UK are more likely to receive treatment.

Tim Straughan, the IC's chief executive, said: "The audit shows that lung cancer care for patients in England and Wales is improving. However there is still a long way to go before patients here enjoy the same standards of care as their counterparts in the United States and other countries in Europe.

"In particular, rates of lung cancer patients undergoing surgery - the main curative treatment for the disease - continue to be substantially lower than in other comparable countries."

The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) said that it was time the UK caught up with the rest of the world.

While the charity welcomed the fact that two thirds of all new cases had been collected on the database, it expressed concern that some centres did not participate, making it hard to draw true conclusions and spot regional variations in care.

However, this should be rectified in future as the Cancer Reform Strategy - which was unveiled earlier this week - announced that data collection by cancer units will be mandatory in the future.

UKLCC also pointed out that rates of biopsy are particularly low, with just 67 per cent of patients having their diagnosis confirmed compared to a target rate of 80 per cent.

Chair Dame Gill Oliver said: "It is disappointing that overall treatment rates in the UK are so low and that patients are still being subjected to a postcode lottery.

"However, the good news is that if all the centres in England and Wales matched the best in Britain, then we would truly have the world class cancer service pledged in the Cancer Reform Strategy, which would help more people survive this dreadful disease."

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, with just over 37,100 people diagnosed with the disease in 2003.

Richard Davidson, director of policy and public affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: "We welcome the publication of this report into lung cancer care. It is only through the collection of data like this that we can see variations in the way lung cancer patients are treated across England and Wales.

"Primary Care Trusts need to work with their Hospital Trusts and Cancer Networks to iron out these differences so that lung cancer patients can be sure that they are recieving the same standard of care wherever they live."