Warning over ‘alarming variation’ in cancer survival

Picture: PA Wire
Picture: PA Wire

There are “alarming and unacceptable” variations in cancer survival rates across the country, experts have warned.

New figures published yesterday show patients with some cancers are up to 68 per cent more likely to survive five years after diagnosis in some parts of England than others.

Delays in diagnosis and unequal access to treatment are likely to be contributing to this inexcusable postcode lottery which is costing lives.

Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support

While seven per cent of women with lung cancer in the Surrey and Sussex area team lived for at least five years after being diagnosed in 2006 to 2008, 12 per cent did in East Anglia, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

While in Durham, Darlington and Tees 47 per cent of men diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus from 2006 to 2008 survived for at least a year after diagnosis, the figure was just 34 per cent in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw.

Men with prostate cancer had a better outlook in Birmingham and the Black Country (86 per cent) compared to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (71 per cent).

The ONS said it had found “wide geographic differences in survival” for cancers of the oesophagus and stomach in men, and for cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon and bladder in women, although it noted improved survival for adults suffering the eight most common cancers between 2004 and 2008.

Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the statistics showed an “alarming and unacceptable variation in cancer survival rates across the country”.

“Delays in diagnosis and unequal access to treatment are likely to be contributing to this inexcusable postcode lottery which is costing lives,” he said.

“With UK cancer survival rates continuing to lag years behind the rest of Europe it’s now time for urgent action to tackle this growing cancer crisis.

“The General Election is now in our sights and Macmillan is urging all political parties to make cancer a top health priority and take action to improve UK cancer survival rates and outcomes in order to match the best in Europe.”

Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, said: “The increasing one and five-year survival for eight of the 10 most common cancers shows the power of research - thanks to better treatments, earlier diagnosis and greater awareness, more people are surviving cancer than ever before.

“But there are still some large hurdles to overcome. Cancers such as lung, pancreatic and oesophageal, as well as brain cancer, still have poor survival, partly because they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage when they’re much harder to treat.

“These statistics also show a geographical difference in survival, highlighting the need for the NHS to have the investment, leadership and support to deliver better treatments to all patients, no matter where they live.”

At a national level, one-year survival was more than 70 per cent and five-year survival greater than 45 per cent for cancers of the colon, breast, cervix, prostate and bladder, the report said.

But for cancers of the oesophagus, stomach and lung, survival remained very low, with one-year survival less than 45 per cent and five-year survival less than 20 per cent.

The biggest annual improvement from 2004 to 2008 in one-year survival was for oesophageal cancer increasing 5.5 per cent per year for men in Durham, Darlington and Tees and for women in North and East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire.