Unsatisfactory cancer survival statistics in the UK

Sadly, Britain sits at the bottom of a major league table for cancer survival among high-income countries. A recent study, published in Lancet Oncology, demonstrates that while survival rates are improving for patients across the UK, this country performs the worst for the most lethal tumours including stomach, bowel, lung and pancreatic cancer. The UK has still not caught up with other developed countries and sits at the bottom of the league table for five out of the seven cancers, nearly all of which afflict men more commonly than women.

  • Between 2010 and 2014, the UK had the lowest five-year survival rate for stomach cancer (20.8%), while Australia had the highest (32.8%).
  • Some 70.8% of patients in Australia lived for at least five years after diagnosis with bowel cancer (highest), but the UK was the lowest at 58.9%.
  • Australia also had the highest survival (70.8%) for rectal cancer, while the UK had the lowest (62.1%).
  • Meanwhile, pancreatic cancer had the lowest five-year survival of all – ranging from 7.9% in the UK (lowest) to 14.6% in Australia (highest).
  • For lung cancer, Canada had the highest five-year survival (21.7%) while the UK had the lowest (14.7%).

Clearly there is no room for complacency. As things stand, currently only 50% of patients presenting with cancer in the UK are diagnosed early; around 115 000 are diagnosed at either stage 3 or stage 4 each year, too late to have the best chance of survival. One reason for this is that British people, especially men, are reluctant to ‘bother’ their GP. In one survey, 34% of British men said that they were worried about wasting doctors’ time, compared with just 9% of Swedish men. There are also delays in the system, one in five patients has to wait at least 15 days to see a GP, and then only for 10 minutes. Further delays occur after referral, with three quarters of hospitals now missing their 62 day target to start definitive treatment. One major reason for this is staff shortages in diagnostics (currently 1 in 10 posts in radiology are currently unfilled).

What are your perceptions of the nature of problem? Has the situation improved since 2014? What else can be done to improve UK cancer survival performance statistics compared with those of other high income countries?

Comment (1) Add yours ↓
  1. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    To add insult to injury a freedom of information request has recently revealed that almost half of NHS Trusts are using outdated radiotherapy equipment. In 2016 the NHS reported that it was investing £130 million on upgrading radiotherapy equipment, however a recent freedom of information enquiry has found that 46% of Trusts are still using linear accelerator machines beyond their 10-year lifespan.

    September 20, 2019 Reply

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