Brinkmann Gynaecology

Britain lags behind Europe on cancer survival rates

The Daily Telegraph front page article today states that, for overall cancer mortality Britain rates eighth from the bottom in a league table of 35 countries – on a par with Poland, Estonia and the Czech Republic and worse than Russia. 

Overall this leaves Britain with a life expectancy at birth amongst the lowest in Western Europe, with female life expectancy lower than Slovenia.

Patients with breast, bowel and cervical cancer fare worse in Britain than in the vast majority of industrialised nations, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  Only Ireland and Poland have worse survival rates for cervical cancer than Britain.

Cancer specialist, Prof Karol Sikora said “Our place in the league tables is tragic – this is a really sad indictment of the priority we give to cancer.  If we just met the average of the rest of Europe 10,000 lives would be saved each year.  The disease is often discovered too late, with cases missed by GPs and delays for hospital scans and diagnostic tests.”  The research also discloses that the NHS has far fewer scanners used to detect cancers than the majority of industrialised nations.

“In Britain there are lots of delays in the system; we need to speed up the whole process.  Clearly more needs to be done to encourage better screening attendance and early diagnosis”

Poor survival rates can be blamed in part on a dramatic fall in the number of women who have cervical cancer screening.  In 2001, 81.5% of women were screened, compared with just 68.5% in 2011.

Knowledge and action is key

Prevention in the form of regular cervical screening and having the HPV vaccine is crucial.  Being attuned to the warning signs and taking action if you are concerned is equally important. Cancer treatments are more successful the earlier the disease is diagnosed.

Survival rates continue to improve as women become more aware of signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers leading to earlier diagnoses, when the overall survival rates are better.  Cancer Research UK says earlier diagnosis, specialisation of surgery and chemotherapy and other treatments are bringing significant improvements.  

The importance is being aware.