Glaring gaps in cancer survival between the UK and other developed countries have been exposed in a major study.
The research, part-funded by the Department of Health, suggests that thousands of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are dying prematurely from common cancers each year.
In some cases survival rates in the UK countries are more than 10% lower than those elsewhere in Europe, Australia and Canada.
The study authors, including the Government’s cancer “tsar” Professor Sir Michael Richards, said the findings are consistent with differences in time of diagnosis and treatment.
A more detailed examination of why survival rates differ between countries will be the subject of future research by the same group, the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership.
The scientists analysed data on 2.4 million cancer patients in the UK (not including Scotland), Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
They focused on four of the most important cancers – breast, bowel, lung and ovarian – looking at survival at one and five years between 1995 and 2007.
The results, published in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal, showed that the life expectancy of cancer patients in the UK was consistently shorter than in other countries.
Only Denmark had a similarly poor record, though generally its outcomes were not as bad as the UK’s.
The findings were divided across three periods: 1995 to 1999, 2000 to 2002 and 2005 to 2007. For the most recent period up to 2007, the UK had the worst bowel, lung and breast cancer five-year survival rates of any of the six countries.