UK & World News

  • 5 December 2013, 7:01

Cancer Survival Rates Are 'Truly Depressing'

Cancer patients in Britain and Ireland are far less likely to survive the disease than people in most other European countries, according to new research.

Results from the biggest cancer study of its kind show that Britain and Ireland have below average survival rates for nine out of 10 common cancers.

The prospects for women with ovarian cancer were particularly bleak, with five-year survival rates lower even than those in relatively poor countries in Eastern Europe.

One cancer charity called the results "depressing" and the NHS has conceded there is much more work to do.

The Eurocare-5 study tracked the outcomes of more than nine million adults and children in 29 countries, who were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2007

Results published in The Lancet medical journal show that across Europe cancer survival is improving, but there are still big variations.

Women with ovarian cancer have a 31% chance of surviving another five years if they live in Britain or Ireland. In Sweden the figure is 44.1%. And even in Bulgaria 33.4% of women survive five years.

Survival for lung and stomach cancers are also markedly worse in Britain and Ireland.

Just 9% of patients with lung cancer survive five years, with only Bulgarian patients faring worse.

And 17.2% of patients with stomach cancer survive five years, far fewer than the European average of 25.1%.

Only patients with skin melanoma in Britain and Ireland do better than average, with 85.6% still alive five years after diagnosis.

The researchers blamed delayed diagnosis, underuse of potentially successful treatments and "poor or unequal access" to treatment for the poor survival in Britain and Ireland.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "This is truly depressing. 

"One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime so this is a big deal and has to be a wake-up call for the NHS.

"There is no reason why the UK should lag behind the rest of Europe when it comes to either certain cancers or survival rates for older cancer patients."

Public Health England has started a Be Clear On Cancer campaign, to raise public awareness of the early signs and symptoms of the disease.

Di Riley, the head of PHE's National Cancer Intelligence Network, said the elderly, in particular, need to be encouraged to go to their GP if they notice suspicious symptoms.

"The recently introduced bowel cancer screening programme should also improve survival from colon cancer, and reduce the number of emergency presentations of elderly people with bowel cancer, particularly as we are now screening people to their mid-70s.

"PHE is also doing a trial of extending breast screening for women in their 70s which should go some way to addressing the poorer survival of older women with breast cancer."

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: "Our one-year survival figures show that for (lung and melanoma skin cancers) we are now approaching the outcomes of other countries where survival has historically been significantly better than in England.

"However, we want the best outcomes for all cancer patients and we know that we need to build on the improvements that have been made and do much more."