British cancer survival rates lag behind most of Europe in spite of better treatment and earlier diagnosis

Posted: 28/05/2014


As National Cancer Survivors Day on 1 June 2014 approaches, the Clinical Negligence team at Penningtons Manches, examines the advances made in cancer survival over the years. While the general trend is a positive one, with survival rates for almost all forms of cancer improving,  there are some startling and very worrying statistics behind the headlines.

Survival in all cancers has shown a significant improvement, with 10 year survival rates for all cancers rising from 25% in 1971/1972 to over 50% in 2010/2011. The improvements are attributed to a combination of better treatments and earlier diagnosis but the figures disguise some very significant variations.

Prostate, lung and bowel cancers made up over half of new cancer diagnoses in males in 2011, yet the statistics vary greatly with 10 year survival rates of 84%, 4% and 56% respectively. Similarly, breast, lung and bowel cancer made up over half of new diagnoses in females in 2011. Ten year survival rates vary with rates of 78%, 7% and 57% respectively.

The biggest improvement over the past 40 years is the survival rate for prostate cancer, with 10 year survival rates rising from 25% to 84%. The main reason for improvement is the introduction of prostate specific antigen testing.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, the 10 year survival rate for pancreatic cancer remains unchanged at less than 3% while three other common cancers - brain, lung and oesophageal - still only have 10 year survival rates of approximately 6%.

William Broadbent, associate in the clinical negligence team, commented: “While some of the recent figures show encouraging progress over the years, it is alarming that there is little or no improvement in a number of common forms of cancer. Britain lags a long way behind most of Europe when it comes to survival rates for cancer. Government statistics show that, if Britain was in line with the European average, 5,000 more people would survive cancer each year. If in line with the best performing nations, 10,000 lives would be saved each year.”

“Although improvements in treatment are a significant factor, early detection is still key in cancer cases. In practice, we continue to see patients who have not been referred for investigation by their GPs in accordance with NICE Guidelines as well as failures to review and report scans accurately when referred. The NHS must put procedures in place to avoid these errors to prevent avoidable deaths.”


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