UK behind other European countries in cancer care, report says

A new report published today, which was commissioned by The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, shows that in cancer treatment, the UK trails behind the rest of the Europe.

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With reference to the other European countries, the rates of survival after five years, which is considered as an international benchmark to measure the quality of cancer care, are poorer among patients in Britain in an average of nine out of ten cancers. The rate of survival exceeds the EU average rates in melanoma alone.

This UK based analysis report was built on the ‘European Cancer Comparator Report' – a study by the Swedish Institute for Health Economics (IHE), that evaluated the state of cancer care in Europe for more than 20 years (from 1995 to 2014). For the first time, an online toolkit was launched along with the new analysis that allowed the easy comparison of the data regarding cancer care of UK and EU.

The impact of lower investments than many of the European neighbors in NHS cancer care is highlighted through the findings of the study. In spite of the rising burden of cancer on the society, the spending of UK on cancer in comparison with the top five EU economies is over 20% less per head. In total health budget on cancer and GDP on health care, it spends 20% and 10% less respectively than the rest of the EU.

Regarding cancer survival, the report says that more than 35,000 people would be alive five years after the diagnosis if the UK had achieved the cancer survival rate of Germany. Among the EU, the UK possesses the lowest survival outcomes with a 34% cancer survival rate of patients for five years and above; 40.8% is the European average survival rate.

The UK has the second worst survival rate for lung as well as pancreatic cancer, with 8% and 3% of the patients surviving more than five years respectively. Bulgaria is the only country behind the UK with a 7% survival rate in lung cancer, and Iceland is behind for pancreatic cancer, with a 2.56% survival rate. More than 100,000 women's deaths could be prevented over the next ten years if the UK had the mortality rates of France.

Analysis based on a sample of six commonly used cancer medicine shows that the UK patients’ access to those medicines is comparatively lower than most of the European nations.

According to the report, a rise in investment in cancer care across Europe, which included investment in early diagnosis, patient access to optimal treatments such as, surgery, radiotherapy and medicines and support for cancer survivors led to improved patient outcomes. Also, scientific breakthroughs achieved during the past 30 years have contributed to the effective treatment of cancer as there is a rise from 8% in 2005 to 25% in 2014 in the proportion of EU spending on cancer medicines compared to total cancer spending.

Apart from this, as patients were kept out of the hospital for longer, the spending on cancer care has remained relatively stable. In the past five years, cancer medicines introduced account for only 10% of the total expenditure on cancer medicine in a particular year; this suggests that the UK is using older medicines.  

Dr. Richard Torbett, Executive Director at the ABPI, said:

The report shows the impact that comparatively lower levels of UK investment in cancer is having on the quality of care available to British patients.”

He suggests that this should be a wake-up call for the UK to refocus the way they tackle cancer across the board. To make progress, the UK should invest more money in faster implementation of the Cancer Strategy, speed up patients’ access to cost-effective medicines in the NHS and create a more determined plan for using real world evidence to excel in cancer treatment outcomes.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK's Director of Policy, said: "5-year cancer survival in the UK has improved but overall we still lag behind other similar countries, except for breast cancer, where the UK is narrowing this gap.”

She welcomes the report's focus on the importance of data collection to better understand the value of new cancer drugs, as its call to find improved ways of making drugs available to patients would benefit. Yet, to improve the survival, the UK needs to get better at diagnosing and treating cancer earlier.

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