Lung cancer survival higher in Sweden than England

In collaboration with Adfero

The chances of surviving lung cancer are much lower in England than they are in Norway or Sweden, scientists at King's College London have found.

Researchers from the Division of Cancer Studies looked at five-year survival rates for lung cancer patients in the three countries.

A total of 250,828 patients were diagnosed with lung cancer in England between 1996 and 2004, along with 18,386 in Norway and 24,886 in Sweden.

Survival rates were found to be lowest in England and highest in Sweden, even after the age, sex and length of monitoring period of patients had been taken into account.

Overall, the proportion of Swedish lung cancer patients who survived for at least five years after diagnosis was almost twice as high as that in England.

Among male lung cancer patients, 11.3 per cent of those in Sweden, 9.3 per cent in Norway and 6.5 per cent in England were still alive after five years.

For women, the corresponding figures were nearly 16 per cent in Sweden, 13.5 per cent in Norway and 8.4 per cent in England.

This is despite the fact that the three countries spend similar amounts of healthcare and have comparable infrastructures.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Thorax journal, observed that the differences in death rates were already apparent in the first year after diagnosis. This indicates that early factors, such as stage of disease at diagnosis, were contributing to the differences.

For instance, the chances of an English lung cancer patient dying within three months of diagnosis between 2001 and 2004 were 23 per cent to 46 per cent higher than those of a patient in Norway.

They were also between 56 per cent and 91 per cent higher than for a patient in Sweden, depending on an individual's age and sex.

Lead researcher Professor Lars Holmberg revealed: "The data shows that patients in England are less likely to be actively treated with surgery and drugs than their Scandinavian counterparts.

"This may be because symptom awareness is poor in England and patients delay seeking medical help, so that by the time they do, their disease is already advanced and beyond curative treatment.

"However, we cannot exclude that differences in treatment activity - related or not to other co-existing illnesses, play a role," he added.

Sarah Woolnough, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "All too often in this country, cancer is diagnosed later than it should be. This important new study reveals the scale of the challenge for lung cancer in particular, as the difference in survival was more marked in the first year after diagnosis. Although differences in treatment may play a role, spotting lung cancer early could make a real difference to survival rates.

"We're working with the Department of Health and NHS on the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), which aims to get better results for cancer patients through earlier diagnosis."


  • Berglund, A. et al (2010). Social inequalities in non-small cell lung cancer management and survival: a population-based study in central Sweden Thorax, 65 (4), 327-333 DOI: 10.1136/thx.2009.125914