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Cancer death rates for UK women ‘among worst in Europe’

Official statistics show cancer death rates for women higher than the European average, but the death rate for men was lower
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
senior woman thinking

12th November 2010 - The UK had the highest cancer death rate for women among European Union countries, according to official figures.

Statistics gathered from 25 out of the 27 EU countries reveal that only Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Poland had a worse record.

The findings come from the latest Social Trends report published by the Office for National Statistics which compares UK health, education and lifestyle with other countries.

It found that in 2007 - the last year for which figures are available - there were 153.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with an average of 131.5 deaths in the EU.

Breast and lung cancers

The report found that breast cancer was the most common form of female cancer in England and Wales and the most common cause of cancer deaths in women, after lung cancer. Although the number of women dying from breast cancer has fallen in the UK and the rest of the EU, death rates in the UK remained higher than the European average in 2007 at 26.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants compared with 23.6.

Catherine Thomson, head of statistical information at Cancer Research UK, explains, “The UK has always had high female death rates for both lung and breast cancer, which is likely to be the reason why women in this country are more likely to die of cancer overall than women in Europe.”

Thomson continues in an emailed statement: “Some progress has been made for breast cancer, with the UK showing bigger drops in death rates for the disease than in many other European countries, but our rates are still among the highest and there is clear room for improvement.”

Screening and treatment

Dr Caitlin Palframan, Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer tells us in an emailed statement that “if we are to close the gap it is vital to continue improving awareness, screening and treatments”.

The official statistics show that UK men fared much better in cancer survival rates than in the rest of the EU. The death rate from all cancers for men stood at 212.3 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 228.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in the 25 countries for which figures were available.

Improving UK cancer survival rates

Last month the Department of Health confirmed that it would fulfil a pledge to give cancer patients in England access to a wider range of medications with a three year £200 million funding boost. It followed a report earlier this year which revealed a low level of spending in the UK on cancer medication compared to the rest of Europe.

A Department of Health spokesperson tells us in an email: "We know that we are behind European countries when it comes to breast, bowel and lung cancer and that is why we are committed to improving cancer outcomes.

"Earlier diagnosis is crucial for us to match the best survival rates in Europe. Awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer is critical in helping us achieve this and we have already announced a new campaign starting in January to alert people to the early signs and symptoms of bowel, lung and breast cancer. This will help to ensure that people get diagnosed when there is a good chance their cancer can be successfully treated.

"This work will drive us forward in our aim to achieve cancer survival rates amongst the best in the world."

Reviewed on November 11, 2010

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