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UK cancer survival lagging behind other nations

Published on 12/09/19 at 10:36am

Cancer survival in the UK is falling behind other high-income nations, despite seeing an overall improvement in survival rates, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology.

Advances in treatment and surgical techniques are thought to behind the UK’s progress, as five-year survival rates for rectal and colon cancer improved the most since 1995, while pancreatic cancer improved the least.

Other wealthy countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Norway and New Zealand still outperformed the UK, and survival rates in all the countries investigated increased.

Researchers investigated data from around four million patients with seven different types of cancer: oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary between 1995 and 2014.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, cancer is being detected at a much earlier stage, saving an estimated 55,000 lives a year, which is coupled with a record investment of £33.9 billion extra a year being invested in the NHS for future staff recruitment.

However, data shows that three-quarters of NHS Services are failing to treat patients quickly enough, with a BBC analysis finding that only 37 out of 131 cancer services in England started treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral by a GP, compared to 95 days five years ago.

Specifically for lung cancer, it was found that Canada had the highest five-year survival rate (21.7%) compared to the UK which stood at just 14.7%. Similarly, Australia had the highest rate for five-year stomach cancer survival at 32.8%, with the UK having the lowest at 20.8%.

Sara Hiom, Director of Early Diagnosis at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), said: “While we’re on the right track, the numbers show we can certainly do better. 

“We will not see the necessary improvements in diagnosis and access to treatment unless we have enough of the right staff across our NHS. 

“Cancer Research UK has been calling for staff shortages to be addressed because, quite simply, it will give people a better chance of surviving their cancer.”

John Butler, co-author of the study and Clinical Adviser to CRUK, also commented: “There isn’t one specific reason why survival in the UK has improved – it’s a combination of many different factors.

“But while we’re still researching what can be done to close the survival gap between countries, we know continued investment in early diagnosis and cancer care plays a big part. Despite our changes, we’ve made slower progress than others.”

Nik Kiran

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