Health

Cancer survival 'lagging in England'

A patient receiving an intravenous dose of anticancer drugs from a syringe Image copyright Elvis

England's track record for cancer survival remains poorer than other countries with similar health systems, a study suggests.

Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the research compares England's survival trends with figures for five other countries over 15 years.

Researchers say there have been steady improvements, but more needs to be done to close the survival gap.

NHS England says survival figures have never been higher in the country.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine compared England's survival figures for colon, breast, lung, ovarian, rectal and stomach cancers with data from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

They looked at how these rates changed between 1995 to 2009.

Survival boost

And despite some steady improvements across the board, they found England's five-year survival for all six cancers remained lower than Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden.

They suggest some of the reasons behind this could include cancers being diagnosed later, poorer access to treatment and less investment in health systems

But they point out some cases the speed of improvement was faster in England than elsewhere.

For example five-year survival from breast cancer improved more in England than Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden.

Image copyright Kallista Images
Image caption A chest X-ray showing cancer in the right lung

And the study indicates the latest English data available shows important gains in survival from lung cancer.

Dr Michel Coleman, one of the lead authors, told the BBC: "The survival statistics are measures of the overall effectiveness of health systems - not whether doctors for example are good or bad."

Cancer Research UK, the charity which funded the study, says improvements in cancer awareness, patient services and treatments are helping.

But Sara Hiom, from the charity, said: "Not only is England struggling to excel on an international level - there is also too much variation across the country in the speed with which patients are diagnosed and whether they can get the treatments they need."

Momentum

Sean Duffy, cancer chief at NHS England, said the NHS was seeing a greater volume of patients now.

He added:"We are encouraged that survival rates in some cancers are improving faster than in other countries, showing that work for earlier diagnosis and better outcomes is having a positive impact.

"But the study is right to highlight the need for continued focus on earlier diagnosis and services working better together.

"We will be working hard to ensure momentum on these areas is maintained as we implement the recommendations of the recent Cancer Taskforce strategy."

Prof Gordon McVie, at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, added: "There is still in the UK a feeling that cancer is fatal and some people are still too frightened to get the diagnosis.

"We need to reassure the public that the earlier you get a diagnosis the much higher a chance you are going to be cured."

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