Cancer Research UK today reveals that as many as 11,000 deaths from cancer could be prevented annually if Great Britain raised its survival figures to match those of the best performing countries in Europe.
Cancer Research UK and national cancer director, Professor Mike Richards, believe that the most important reasons for the survival gap include poor awareness of the symptoms of cancer, late presentation to a GP and, late onward referral to hospital.
The new data will be presented today (Friday) at the launch of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), which aims to help correct this imbalance and reduce the number of people needlessly dying from cancer in Britain. NAEDI is being chaired jointly by Professor Richards and Harpal Kumar, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK.
Researchers studied survival rates in Great Britain and 13 other European countries. They looked at the figures for 39 different types of cancer and broke the data down by age and sex. They then drew comparisons with the best survival rates and the average survival rates in Europe.
The results show that if our survival rates were as good as the European average, there would have been 6,500 fewer deaths annually – within five years of diagnosis – for cancer patients diagnosed between 1995 and 1999.
And if our rates were as good as the best in Europe, this would equate to around 11,000 fewer deaths in cancer patients each year. But some progress has already been made. In the late eighties, this figure was 12,000 avoidable deaths. And recent improvements in treatments suggest that Britain has made further gains compared to the rest of Europe.
Previous research suggests that cancer patients in this country tend to be diagnosed at a later stage than those in the rest of Europe. And experts believe that this is a key reason for the lower survival rates.
Lead researcher, Professor Michel Coleman explained: “Sadly, we know that many cases of cancer are being diagnosed too late in Britain and this is a major reason for our poor survival rates.
“Our research suggests that if we could make further improvements in this area we could save thousands more lives each year.”
Professor Richards said: “We know that cancer treatment in Britain has improved vastly in recent years and we are now beginning to see the impact on our survival rates. But we’ve still got work to do if we’re going to catch up with the rest of Europe.
“I believe that if we can tackle delays in diagnosing cancer, we will be able to save thousands more lives in the future.”
Harpal Kumar said: “These figures highlight the scale of the challenge and the opportunity we face.
“We know that cancers are often being picked up too late and we could make an enormous difference if we could speed the process up.
“We hope that the range of measures we’re launching today through the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative will at last redress the balance.”
NAEDI is being launched at a special conference today. The aims of the initiative include:
- understanding levels of awareness of cancer symptoms,
- providing clear messages on the signs and symptoms of cancer,
- encouraging people to go to the doctor with possible signs of cancer,
- understanding and tackling delays in primary care,
- evaluating research that has already been done and spotting any gaps,
- research comparing survival with other countries, and
- conducting new research into raising awareness and promoting early diagnosis.
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Data for the research were extracted from the EUROCARE studies, the most recent of which (EUROCARE-4, covering patients diagnosed 1995-99) was published in late 2007. The researchers compared Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) with Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. These countries were chosen because they are the 13 countries that contributed to EUROCARE 2, 3 and 4.
The National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative NAEDI was first announced in the Cancer Reform Strategy and is being led by Mike Richards, national cancer director, and Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. The role of NAEDI is to co-ordinate and provide support to activities that promote the earlier diagnosis of cancer in order to improve clinical outcomes.
The NAEDI Launch Conference is being held on Friday 21st November 2008 at Mary Ward House, London. The event will highlight and explore the scale of the challenge in earlier detection of cancer. The conference will cover areas from patient and provider delay to improving uptake of screening and funding of new research.