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Cancer patients suffering as UK lags behind in chemo and radiotherapy, study finds

Healthcare Feb 29, 2024 at 09:53

Cancer patients suffering as UK lags behind in chemo and radiotherapy, study finds

Dr John Butler said the studies showed that the UK is “still around 10 to 15 years behind leading countries” in terms of cancer treatment.

Cancer survival rates in the UK are lagging 10 to 15 years behind some other countries, according to new research.

A pair of studies compared how often cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the UK to those in Canada, Norway and Australia.

They found the UK is behind all three countries in treating various types of cancer, who also have higher five-year survival rates.

Dr John Butler, clinical lead for the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership and an ovarian  cancer surgeon, said the studies show the “missed opportunities” for British patients to receive “life-prolonging treatment”.

“For many aggressive cancers – such as ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancer – it’s vital that people are diagnosed and start treatment as soon as possible,” he said.

“Lower use of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the UK could impact people’s chances of survival, especially for older patients.

“Although we have made progress, the last benchmark showed that cancer survival in the UK is still around 10 to 15 years behind leading countries.”

In the study, carried out by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership and part-funded by Cancer Research UK, researchers looked at more than 780,000 people diagnosed between 2012 and 2017 with a range of cancers.

Among some of the findings was that 29% of colon cancer patients in the UK underwent chemotherapy in that period, but Canada and Australia each had 34%, while Norway had 31%.

Pancreatic cancer patients saw some of the widest gaps in the frequency of treatments, with 27% in the UK receiving chemotherapy to  Canada’s 41%, Norway’s 47% and  Australia’s  50%.

In terms of other treatments, 31% of UK oesophageal cancer patients received radiotherapy compared to 59%, 53% and 54% respectively for the other countries.

While the five-year survival rate of stage three colon cancer patients in the UK is at 63%, Canada and Australia are at 70%, with Norway at 71%.

Charity: ‘UK should be striving’ for better

Commenting on the study, published in  the Lancet Oncology, chief executive of Cancer Research UK Michelle Mitchell said: “The UK should be striving for world-leading cancer outcomes.

“All cancer patients, no matter where they live, deserve to receive the highest quality care.”

She added: “When it comes to treating cancer, timing really matters. Behind these statistics are people waiting anxiously to begin treatment that is key to boosting their chances of survival.

“We can learn a great deal from other countries who have stepped up and substantially improved cancer services. With a general election on the horizon, the UK government has a real opportunity to buck the trends we see in this research and do better for people affected by cancer.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “These figures cover only the period from 2012-2017. Since then, we have made significant investment in cancer diagnosis and treatment, including £162m towards radiotherapy equipment and £2.3bn to launch 160 Community Diagnostic Centres across England, which will help us achieve our aim of catching 75% of all cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028.

“Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities, and we have treated record numbers of patients over the last year. Survival rates are also improving across almost all types of cancer, and we will shortly legislate to create the first smoke-free generation – the biggest single public health intervention in decades.”