Britain ranks poorly for cancer survival rates

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 27 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1352

Survival rates among patients with cancer in Britain are worse than those among many of their European counterparts, according to a report published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The study found that in the worst case—stomach cancer—the five year survival rate among British patients was less than half the European average.

The Eurocare study uses data from 30 cancer registries covering 100 million people in 11 European countries and summarises the survival of 800000 patients diagnosed as having cancer between 1978 and 1985. The researchers claim that this is the most ambitious study of its kind and the first to compare survival rates across Europe.


The study ranks countries by five year survival rates from diagnosis, allowing comparisons between countries and with the European average. The rankings are fairly stable for many cancers, though not all, leading the authors to suggest that the results of the study represent real differences in survival. Estonia and Poland were consistently bottom of the rankings, while patients in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Finland did best overall.

Scotland and England were consistently in the bottom half of the tables for many malignancies. Patients with cancers of the stomach, colon, lung, breast, ovary, and cervix did particularly badly. However, in cancers for which chemotherapy is effective, such as testicular cancer, Hodgkin's disease, and the leukaemias, the results are much more consistent across the countries.

The report's authors warn that the data are not sufficiently standard for comparison of staging of disease at diagnosis or the efficacy of treatment in the different countries, though the investigators already have a new study under way that will address these areas in more detail.

Professor Michel Coleman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We cannot say that the survival differences are caused by poorer health care in the countries with poorer survival, but if the differences are due to delays in diagnosis and treatment then that is something we need to know about.”—DOUGLAS CARNALL, BMJ

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