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UK cancer survival rates behind other countries

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, September 12, 2019

Cancer survival in the UK has improved since 1995, but rates are still behind other high-income nations.

This is according to a new study by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership, managed by Cancer Research UK.

Survival rates improved

The research analysed 3.9 million cancer cases between 1995 and 2014 in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Cancer Research UK explained that it is the first international study to examine changes in cancer survival rates alongside the number of cases and death rates for lung, ovarian, rectal, pancreatic, colon, stomach and oesophageal cancers.

According to the organisation, one-year and five-year survival rates have improved across all seven types of cancer in the UK since 1995.

In particular, it was found that five-year survival for rectal cancer in the UK rose by 14% since 1995, from 48% to 62%. The UK was also found to have one of the highest increases in five-year survival rates across all countries for colon cancer, at almost 12%. Meanwhile, one-year survival rates for lung, ovarian and oesophageal cancers rose by roughly 15% from 1995.

Cancer Research UK said the increases in survival rates can be attributed to advances in treatment, such as better surgery, among other factors.

UK lagging behind

Despite the increases in survival rates for those cancer sufferers, the UK is still worst for the five-year survival rankings for other types of cancers: lung, stomach, rectal and pancreatic.

Cancer Research UK clinical adviser John Butler, co-author of the study and a consultant surgeon, explained: “There isn’t one specific reason why survival in the UK has improved – it’s a combination of many different factors.

“Over the last twenty years we’ve seen improvements in cancer planning, development of national cancer strategies and the rollout of new diagnostic and treatment services.”

He went on to say that survival rates for lung, ovarian, and oesophageal cancer have increased largely because the quality of surgery has “radically improved”, with more surgery taking place than before. He added that more patients are being treated by specialist teams, rather than surgeons who aren’t experts in the area.

Mr Butler said that “continued investment in early diagnosis and cancer care plays a big part” in closing the gap between countries.

Are staff shortages responsible?

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, called for more of “the right staff across our NHS”. She said her organisation has been “calling for staff shortages to be addressed because, quite simply, it will give people a better chance of surviving their cancer”.

She explained that if the UK is to see “world-class cancer outcomes”, a comparable investment in the NHS is required.

It follows Cancer Research UK publishing research showing that staff shortages are responsible for delayed cancer diagnoses in around 115,000 patients in the UK.

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