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UK: Poor lung cancer survival rate

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
surgeon looking at check xray

12th February 2013 - Lung cancer survival rates are poorer in the UK than five other developed countries, says a new study.

One-year survival rates for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and the more aggressive small cell lung cancer are not as good as those in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Most common lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 80% of all lung cancers. It grows more slowly and is generally more responsive to treatment. Small cell lung cancer tends to be more aggressive.

The research - carried out by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) - examined whether differences in timing of lung cancer diagnosis could explain the variation in survival rates between the six countries. The authors examined data collected on 57,352 adults who had been diagnosed with the disease between 2004 and 2007.

They found wide differences in overall survival one year after patients were diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. After taking account of age, those who remained alive one year after being diagnosed accounted for:

  • 46% in Sweden
  • 42% in Australia and Canada
  • 39% in Norway
  • 34% in Denmark
  • 30% in the UK

One year survival rates for patients with the earliest stage disease in the UK were 72.5% compared with 88.4% in Sweden - a difference of 15.9%.

There were also international survival differences at each stage of diagnosis, but the UK had the lowest survival at each stage of disease for both types of lung cancer, with one year survival for patients with small cell lung cancer 12-16% lower in the UK than in Sweden and Australia

Differences in the pattern of disease, delays in diagnosis or in the accuracy of investigations for each stage may account for some of the differences in survival, say the authors.

Delayed diagnosis

"Low stage-specific survival in the UK could conceivably arise in part because of suboptimal staging, and this misclassification of stage in a proportion of patients could lead to inappropriate treatment and therefore overall lower survival," they write.

But other factors, including differences in the quality of, and access to, treatment, are also likely to have a role, they say. Other factors such as obesity, smoking, and comorbidity may be more common in the countries with lower overall survival, but the authors suggest they would have to be highly prevalent to explain the survival differences they found.
The study appears in the journal Thorax.

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, says in a statement: "This study and the ongoing work of the ICBP are hugely important. We’re learning more about the differences in cancer survival between countries and what might explain them. We need this information if we’re to help improve the outcome for cancer patients.

"This research should remind us that while great progress is being made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the UK, we mustn’t be complacent. Around 35,000 people still die from lung cancer each year in the UK and that’s far too many. We would like to see ongoing improvements in data collection and the use of uniform systems for data on stage, in order to improve the accuracy of global comparisons."

Reviewed on February 12, 2013

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