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Cancer Survival Rates in Sweden, Canada Surpass U.K., Denmark

U.K. Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley
U.K. Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley announced an interim 50 million-pound fund for cancer drugs in October. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Cancer patients in the U.K. and Denmark are less likely to survive than those living in Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway because of poorer early diagnosis in the two countries, researchers said.

Survival rates for breast, colorectal, lung and ovarian cancer rose in all six countries whose medical data was analyzed in a study published in The Lancet medical journal today. The U.K. and Denmark, which saw the biggest increase in breast cancer survival rates, still lagged behind the other nations.

“The improvement is there to see in all countries,” Michel Coleman, the study’s lead author and a professor of epidemiology and vital statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told reporters at a briefing yesterday in London. “Cancer is a very important chronic disease and public health problem. One in three can be expected to be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes and one in four will die of it.”

Patients in the U.K. and Denmark are less likely to be diagnosed in the early stages of disease, when treatment is more effective, based on the one-year survival rates in the study, said Mike Richards, national cancer director at the U.K. Department of Health. Between 2005 and 2007, about 30 percent of Britons were alive within one year of being diagnosed with lung tumors, compared with 35 percent in Denmark, 39 percent in Norway, 42 percent in Canada, 43 percent in Australia and 44 percent in Sweden, the study found.

Improving Diagnosis

Since 2007, the U.K. has focused more on improving tumor detection, Richards said at the London briefing. Britain’s coalition government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, is attempting to tackle breast, colorectal and lung cancer with a 10.75 million-pound ($16.7 million) awareness campaign beginning in January.

“We have not narrowed the gap effectively for lung, ovarian and colorectal cancers,” he said. “It’s clearly good news that we have narrowed the gap on breast cancer.”

The difference in breast cancer survival narrowed across the six countries to about 5 percentage points in 2005 to 2007, from 9 percentage points in 1995 to 1999, according to the study. While the U.K. and Denmark saw survival rates improve the most, they ranked behind Australia, where 91 percent of patients were alive five years after diagnosis, compared with 86 percent in the U.K. and 87 percent in Denmark, the researchers said.

“I’m optimistic we will see the narrowing of gaps with other countries,” Richards said.

Drug Fund

U.K. Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley announced an interim 50 million-pound fund for cancer drugs in October to pay for new treatments not available in the government-run health service until a two-year measure is introduced in April.

The drug fund won’t make a big difference in survival rates in England, Richards said.

“Surgery still remains the treatment that cures the most people,” he said.

The study, which examined data from 2.4 million adult patients between 1995 and 2007, was funded by the Department of Health and Cancer Research U.K., a London-based charity.

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