UK cancer survival improves but continues to lag behind best in Europe

Cancer Research UK
Credit: Flickr/woolamaloo_gazette via CC-BY-NC 2.0

An analysis of data from 10 million patients across Europe has shown that, between 1995 up to 2007, cancer survival figures improved across the continent.

But comparing data from different regions suggests that survival in the UK and Ireland lagged behind the best performing areas over that period.

"Survival is improving in the UK, but not fast enough." - Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK

The study, EUROCARE 5, covers more than half the European population, and is published as a series of reports in the European Journal of Cancer

The researchers were able to adjust their findings to take into account differences in population ages, and in rates of different cancers diagnosed in across the regions.

According to study leader Dr Milena Sant, from the Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, changes in survival appeared to be related to regions' gross domestic product (GDP) and total national expenditure on health (TNEH).

"Countries with recent higher increases in GDP and TNEH had a higher increase in cancer survival. However, this was not the case for countries such as Denmark and the UK, which continue to perform worse than expected for their level of health expenditure”.

The largest variation was seen among patients diagnosed with certain forms of blood cancer, likely due to recent advances in treatment that had not been made available equally across the continent, Sant said.

Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, cautioned that the data only covered patients diagnosed up to 2007. 

"This won’t reflect the impact of more recent improvements that the UK has seen in cancer survival," he said

"But these figures shouldn’t be ignored, as they highlight that the UK has some way to go to get its cancer survival figures to match the best performing countries in Europe. Survival is improving in the UK, but not fast enough."

Oesophageal cancer was one cancer where survival in UK and Ireland improved faster than in other countries, which, according to Ormiston-Smith, is likely to be down to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment.

Professor Peter Naredi, co-chair of the 2015 ECCO Cancer Congress, where the data were presented, said the study highlighted the importance of following trends in cancer survival.

“When we improve diagnostics and treatments of a cancer type it does not take long to improve survival for that patient population as well," he said.

But he cautioned that improved survival does not come without government spending.

"I hope this will continue to encourage the European community to spend money on cancer care and research,“ he added.


  • Survival of Cancer Patients in Europe, 1999 - 2007: The EUROCARE-5 Study. Eds: P. Minicozzi, R. Otter, M. Primic-Žakelj, S. Francisci, European Journal of Cancer, vol.51, issue 15, October 2015, pp 2099-2266.