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European blood cancer survival improving

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

15 July 2014

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Europe at night

Survival rates for people with blood cancer have improved over the last decade across Europe, but variations still exist from country to country, Italian research shows.

“This study shows survival for most blood cancers has increased across Europe and that’s fantastic news” – Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK

‘Blood cancers’ are forms of the disease that affect cells of the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system – mainly leukaemias, myelomas and lymphomas.

The researchers, writing in The Lancet Oncology, believe differences in survival may be down to variation in the quality of care between countries, along with access to cancer drugs.

But, according to Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, Nick Ormiston-Smith, it may not be possible to prove how valid these links are without further study.

“This study shows survival for most blood cancers has increased across Europe and that’s fantastic news. In the UK, 10-year survival for leukaemia has risen from around one in 20 to nine in 20 since the early 70s – and we believe that’s down to research providing new life-saving treatments,” he said.

“But it’s difficult to prove any link so we still need more detailed studies that compare how advanced the cancer is when it’s diagnosed, alongside the treatments prescribed, in order to accurately show how effective these treatments are and to explain any variations in survival based on where patients live,” he added.

As part of the EUROCARE project, the latest study, led by leader Dr Milena Sant from the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, looked at data collected from 20 European countries involving more than half a million people (560,400).

Researchers compared the proportion of adults still alive five years after being diagnosed with one of 11 different types of blood cancer between 1997 and 2008.

The results show large increases in survival rates for many types of the disease:

The areas of Europe that saw the greatest increases were the northern, central, and eastern regions, though cancer patients in eastern Europe continue to have lower survival for most blood cancers overall compared to other regions.

The researchers suggest that these differences in survival may be down to accessing different levels of care and the availability and use of new treatments – including the cancer drugs rituximab, imatinib, thalidomide, and bortezomib.

“We know that [these drugs] were first made available for general use in Europe in 1997, 2001, 1998, and 2003, respectively. The years following general release of these drugs coincided with large increases in survival for chronic myeloid leukaemia, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma; with a smaller but still significant survival increase for multiple myeloma plasmacytoma,” say the authors.

Uptake and use of rituximab, imatinib, and bortezomib in eastern Europe has lagged behind other countries, and the researchers believe this may explain the lower survival rates in this region.

European map image from Flickr

  • Sant M, et al. (2014). Survival for haematological malignancies in Europe between 1997 and 2008 by region and age: results of EUROCARE-5, a population-based study, The Lancet Oncology, DOI: