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Cancer survival globally is improving

UK survival rate lags behind comparable countries

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 01 February 2018

Cancer survival across the globe is improving but there are significant differences from country to country with the UK falling behind comparable nations for some common cancers, according to a new study* published in The Lancet.

The CONCORD-3 study published in The Lancet analysed individual patient records from 322 cancer registries in 71 countries and territories to compare five-year survival from diagnosis for more than 37.5 million adults (aged 15–99 years) and children (0–14 years) with one of 18 common cancers.

Cancer survival was generally increasing, even for some of the deadlier cancers such as liver and lung, said the study authors, describing their work as the largest and most up-to-date study of population-based survival trends from 2000 to 2014.

Countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden led the way in survival for most cancers, but survival trends varied extensively, said the study published just ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February.

In the UK, cancer survival is improving with several cancers showing large increases in five-year survival between 2000 and 2014:
  • breast: 80% to 86%
  • prostate: 82% to 89%
  • bowel: 52% to 60%
  • lung: 7% to 13%.
However, five-year survival is lower for several common cancers in the UK than in other comparable countries, such as a 26% survival rate for adult brain tumours in the UK compared to 36% in the USA, and a 36% survival rate for ovarian cancer in the UK compared to 46% in Sweden.

The authors warned that in some parts of the world, estimation of survival was limited both by incomplete data and by legal or administrative obstacles to updating the cancer records with each patient’s date of death.

Lead author Dr Claudia Allemani from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: “Continuous monitoring of global trends in cancer survival is crucial to assess the overall effectiveness of health systems world-wide, and to help policy-makers plan better strategies for cancer control.

“But, inadequate or unreliable data prevent governments from understanding the true nature and magnitude of the public health problems created by the growing cancer burden. This leaves governments poorly equipped to develop national cancer plans that will translate into real improvements in survival for patients.”

Not all major cancers had seen great improvements and in 2014, pancreatic cancer remained highly lethal in all countries, with five-year survival typically less than 15%.

Co-author professor Michel Coleman from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Greater international efforts are needed to understand the risk factors for this rapidly lethal cancer and to improve prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment.”

The authors concluded by calling for cancer registries to be given adequate resources to register all patients and to link the registry data to up-to-date death records.

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer Research UK works with partners across the world with similar health systems and similarly comprehensive information about cancer patients, including how and at what stage they were diagnosed, treated, and their survival.

“Our International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership goes a step further to focus on understanding why survival differences exist between countries, offering robust insight to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer worldwide.”
*Allemani, C. et al. Global surveillance of trends in cancer survival 2000–14 (CONCORD-3): analysis of individual records for 37 513 025 patients diagnosed with one of 18 cancers from 322 population-based registries in 71 countries. The Lancet. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)33326-3.

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