Charities say thousands of lives could be saved with improved cancer care
Thousands of lives could be saved each year with improvements to care for people with less survivable cancers, a group of charities has said.
The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce warned that people diagnosed with less survivable cancers in the UK have “worse prospects” than those living in similar countries.
If the UK had similar survival rates for less survivable cancers – including lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach cancers – some 8,000 lives could be saved each year, the Taskforce has estimated.
It said that these cancers have an average five-year survival rate of just 16% and that the UK “lags woefully behind other countries for cancer survival”.
The Taskforce, which is made up of charities supporting patients with these cancers, analysed data from 2010 to 2014 on 33 countries with comparable wealth and income levels to the UK.
It found that out of the 33 countries, the UK ranked 28th for five-year survival rate for stomach and lung cancer.
For pancreatic cancer it was 26th, and it was 25th for brain cancer.
And of the 33 countries studied, the UK came 21st for five-year survival for liver cancer and 16th for oesophageal cancer.
The countries with the highest five year survival rates for these cancers were Korea, Belgium, USA, Australia and China and the Taskforce estimated that if survival rates in the UK were comparable to those for patients in these countries, then 8,000 lives could be saved each year.
It said that the reasons why the UK lags behind on survival rates ae “complex”, but could be due to a mix of delayed diagnosis and slow access to treatment.
“People diagnosed with a less survivable cancer are already fighting against the odds for survival,” according to Anna Jewell, chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce.
“The figures we’re sharing today show that people living in the UK have even worse prospects than those living in comparable countries.
“We can see from these statistics that if we could bring the survivability of these cancers on level with the best-performing countries in the world, then we could give valuable years to thousands of patients.
“If we’re going to see positive and meaningful change then all of the UK governments must commit to proactively investing in research and putting processes in place so we can speed up diagnosis and improve treatment options.”
MP Elliot Colburn, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, added: “Less survivable cancers deserve particular and urgent attention due to the very severe outcomes often faced by people diagnosed with them.
“If we’re going to deliver world class care to cancer patients in the UK, then we must bring ourselves on a level with other countries when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of less survivable cancers.”
It comes after MPs heard that delays to diagnosis for lung cancer mean that some patients can become ineligible for cutting edge treatments which can extend their survival from months to years.
Professor David Baldwin, consultant respiratory physician and honorary professor of medicine at the University of Nottingham, told the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday: “Unless you have earlier and faster diagnosis, the great treatments that are now available… those treatments aren’t as effective and can sometimes not be given at all.
“So if we have delay in getting a patient to the point of diagnosis, their health has deteriorated so much because of that delay – and there are all sorts of reasons for those delays – then they can’t receive the treatment, because if they do receive the treatment it does more harm than good.
“Now, I see this all the time in my clinical practice, it is very distressing when we now have treatment that will cause people to survive for years – it used to be just months, the narrative has changed, if they get their treatment, it’s years – and they can’t have it because they’re not fit enough or you’ve seen them deteriorate on the pathway.”
Advances in genomic testing mean treatments can be targeted for each cancer type but Prof Baldwin added: “One of my oncologist friends at The Royal Marsden said it’s simply unacceptable to say to a patient when they come to see you for treatment that: ‘You got to wait three to four weeks before we will know which treatment we can give you.’ And that’s what’s been happening.
“It’s often been longer than that, in fact, and as I’ve said that patients deteriorate and therefore if they deteriorate, they can’t get this fantastic treatment.”
But Dr Paul Mulholland, consultant in medical oncology at University College London Hospitals, said: “For glioblastoma (a type of brain tumour), which affects 3,000 people a year in the UK and has an average survival of nine months, if you diagnose it earlier, it will make no difference. The problem for patients with glioblastoma is the lack of treatments.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Cancer survival has never been higher, and the NHS continues to accelerate new ways to improve survival rates for all cancers, including those which internationally have been hardest to detect and treat early.
“Catching cancers earlier saves lives, and our community lung health checks have now diagnosed over 3,000 cancers – three quarters at stage 1 or 2, compared to a third historically.
“People can help NHS staff to diagnose cancer earlier by contacting their GP if they are concerned about something which may be a symptom of cancer.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cancer is being diagnosed at an earlier stage, more often, with survival rates improving across almost all types of cancer, and the NHS has seen and treated record numbers of cancer patients over the past two years.
“Following recommendations by this taskforce we have launched a targeted lung health check programme and increased the speed at which people with non-specific symptoms are checked for cancer – as we know the sooner cancer is diagnosed the better the chance of survival.
“Our Major Conditions Strategy will also set out how we will improve cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment and we have opened 141 community diagnostic centres offering over five million additional tests, including for cancer.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub