Sunday, 4 Jun 2023

UK survival rates for 9/10 cancers are LOWER than the rest of Europe

How Britain lags behind Europe in fight against cancer: Survival rates for 9/10 of most common forms of disease are LOWER in UK than rest of continent

  • NHS too slow to use new drugs and ‘uncomfortable with innovation’, report says
  • Authors say this is part of the reason why UK cancer survival lags behind Europe 
  • Quotes study that found UK only outperformed continent in care for one cancer 

Survival rates for nine out of 10 of the most common types of cancer are lower in Britain than Europe, a report warned today.

Experts believe the figures are, in part, due to a delay in getting new drugs that can help beat the diseases rolled out on the NHS.  

NHS Confederation and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said the health service is ‘uncomfortable with innovation’.

The bodies, which jointly authored the report, added that it appeared the NHS was also beset by ‘ageist assumptions’ regarding care for the elderly. 

The UK lagged behind the European average for 5-year survival rates for 9 out 10 common cancers. Britain only outperformed the continent on survival rates for skin melanoma cancer

While cancer survival for some forms of the disease have improved greatly over the years has others, like those for lung and pancreas, have only improved at a snail’s pace

NHS cancer data for November shows that just six in 10 started treatment within two months from an urgent GP cancer referral (red line), leaving 6,356 (blue line) patients waiting more than 62 days for cancer care

It highlighted a statistic from a 2017 study which found the UK lagged behind the rest of the continent in five-year survival rates for nine out of 10 common cancers.

These were for stomach, bowel, rectal, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate, kidney and non-hodgkin lymphoma cancers.

The worst gap was for kidney cancer, with only 41 per cent of Britons surviving five years after diagnosis, compared to 61 per cent in Europe.

Britain only outperformed its neighbours in skin cancer, having a survival rate of 86 per cent, three percentage points above the European average.  

While the comparison was based on data from 2000-2007, the authors of the new report said UK still suffers ‘with access to cancer medicines being consistently lower than most European countries’.

And despite UK cancer survival rates improving slightly since that time, Britain is still considered to be poor performer when compared to similar nations.

A major 2018 analysis of cancer survival rates across 71 countries — involving more than 37million cancer patients — found the UK was in the bottom half of the league table for seven cancers.

It only appeared in the top ten for two types of the disease.

Other studies have suggested that 10,000 British lives could be saved per year if UK survival rates hit the European average.

However, any catch-up to the rest of the world is expected to be further delayed by the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Fear of the virus led to some Brits shying away from seeking help for their tell-tale symptoms, meaning when they are eventually diagnosed the disease is harder to treat.

Additionally, the demands of the pandemic on the health system meant access to appointments and diagnosis was also disrupted. 

10-year cancer survival rates for many common cancers have now reached above the 50 per cent mark, but Britain is still considered a poor performer internationally

There are fears that this could result in a collateral cancer timebomb, worsening already struggling NHS cancer care. 

The latest NHS cancer data, covering for November, shows just six in 10 patients in England started treatment within two months of an urgent referral from their GP. 

NHS targets state 85 per cent of patients should be seen within this two-month window.  

The new report also identified large variations across Britain when it came to access cutting-edge medicines for conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

The authors said not only was there a medical justification for improving access to innovative medicines in the NHS, but an economic one as well.

‘Innovative medicines transform individual patient lives as well as bringing significant benefits to the UK economy and to society as a whole – through greater patient and carer productivity, NHS productivity and more,’ it said.

‘It is estimated that the UK economy would achieve £17.9billion additional productivity gains through the increased uptake of innovative medicines.

‘For the NHS and the wider health and care system to survive and thrive for the benefit of its users, innovation at every stage and in every aspect is not only desirable but necessary.’

Just 290,000 people in England were told they had cancer in 2020, down by a tenth on one year earlier — the biggest drop logged since records began 50 years ago — and the lowest number logged in a decade

Funding boost of £2m will give hope to children with cancer by swelling research into experimental treatments 

12 paediatric ECMCs across the UK are set to receive a £2.2million funding boost from the charity Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the Little Princess Trust

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents all NHS organisations, said: ‘This report demonstrates that collective efforts from the NHS and industry can help to overcome the enormous challenges currently faced by the health service to still achieve reductions in health inequalities and improvements to population health in the UK.’

Richard Torbett, chief executive of the ABPI, said: ‘Everyone in the health system wants to see improved access to care.

‘By implementing the ideas in this report, particularly around improving access to innovative medicines, we can make real and rapid improvements that will relieve the pressures on the NHS.’

It comes after the pharmaceutical firms AbbVie and Lilly announced they were leaving the UK’s Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access (VPAS) with the Government, saying it was out of step with global competitors.

An NHS spokesman said: ‘The NHS is internationally competitive in adopting innovative medicines, and while this report only looks at cancer medicines access up to 2015, recent industry data shows there are actually five treatments available in England for every four in Europe and almost a third more cancer drugs with the Cancer Drugs Fund providing fast-track access to lifesaving treatments.

‘NHS England has secured numerous world-first and first-in-Europe medicines deals and is showing international leadership in eliminating infectious disease and tackling antimicrobial resistance, all while delivering value for taxpayers.’

The industry report referenced by NHS England is a July 2022 study from QVIA, a firm which provides analytics, technology and clinical research services to the life sciences industry. It looks at EU averages and access to EU-approved medicines.

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