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Cancer Research UK shocked by survival study

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by Cancer Research UK | News

1 December 2009

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Cancer Research UK is calling on the government and PCTs across the country to act urgently after shocking new figures, out today (Tuesday), reveal a cancer patient’s chances of surviving for at least a year varies hugely depending on where they live.

The variation among primary care trusts (PCTs) was biggest for lung cancer survival, with patients in Herefordshire three times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis compared with patients in Kensington & Chelsea – according to the report published by the Department of Health.

And almost all PCTs failed to match the best survival rates in Europe. The figures confirm views expressed by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Director over the past two years that patients in the UK are, on average, being diagnosed at a much later stage, when specialist cancer treatments are least effective.

Whilst warmly welcoming the overall improvements in mortality and survival set out in the report, Cancer Research UK is urging PCTs to take the data on variability very seriously. The charity believes it is vital for cancer to be diagnosed earlier to give all patients the best chance of surviving.

Key facts in the report include:

* For bowel cancer, one year survival reached 80 per cent in Telford and Wrekin while the worst rates were seen in Waltham Forest and Hastings and Rother (58 per cent).

* In lung cancer, Kensington & Chelsea had the best survival rate of 44 per cent and the worst was Herefordshire with only 15 per cent.

* Breast cancer survival was 99 per cent in Torbay, and the worst was Tower Hamlets with one-year survival only 89 per cent.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s thanks to the Cancer Reform Strategy and the work of the National Cancer Director that we now have this critical information available for the first time. However, these shocking statistics confirm that the cancer postcode lottery remains a real problem.

“Patients are undoubtedly not being diagnosed early enough in large parts of the country, nor are they getting equal access to the best treatments, such as surgery for lung cancer.

“There is no excuse for such a big difference between different areas. It is appalling that someone with lung cancer in Herefordshire should be three times more likely to die within a year than a patient in Kensington. Or that a person diagnosed with bowel cancer in Waltham Forest or Hastings should be 22 per cent more likely to die within a year than a patient in Telford. This is the worst kind of postcode lottery.

“It’s a disgrace that such a small proportion of PCTs have survival rates that match the best figures in Europe, or even the best rates in Europe ten years ago.

“This needs urgent action. We’re pleased that the Department of Health have been bold enough to publish these figures. The NHS now needs to take them very seriously.

“Cancer Research UK is already working with the NHS and the Department of Health on the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), which now needs further investment to speed up its work. PCTs need to make earlier diagnosis a major priority and should set themselves goals for rapid improvement. We must set an aspiration that brings our survival rates up to the best in Europe in the next ten years. We can only achieve this by getting cancer diagnosed earlier.”