UK breast cancer survival is worse than in comparable countries – why?
In the UK we’re making great progress against breast cancer – over 85 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease survive for at least five years. And around two thirds of all women diagnosed with breast cancer can expect to survive their disease for at least 20 years.
But today’s results from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) – a study of cancer survival rates in some of the worlds’ richest countries – serve as a reminder that we could be doing even better, and it gives some clues about how.
It’s the latest in a string of important papers from ICBP. The first showed that while UK survival is improving, it lags behind the best in the world. And for the four cancers studied in ICBP, it is only in breast cancer that are we closing the gap.
Two recent papers examined the reasons for the UK’s relatively poor ovarian and lung cancer survival. They suggested that the differences between countries – and the UK’s poorer statistics – were caused more by differences in access to treatment than by being diagnosed at a late stage.
The new research, which drew on data from more than 250,000 breast cancer patients, paints a similar picture. It shows that survival rates for women diagnosed in the UK are lower than those in Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark or Sweden – with 87 per cent of women survived their disease for at least three years after diagnosis (known as ‘three-year survival’) compared with 94 per cent in Canada (the highest in the study).
Although the overall differences between the countries weren’t that large – women with breast cancer generally fare well across all the countries studied – a closer look at the numbers reveals some good and some bad news.
This is possible because, like the lung and ovarian cancer studies, the new analysis also looked at the proportion of breast cancers diagnosed at different stages of the disease, and tallied this against the chances of surviving at each of these stages. This yields important clues about the root causes of the UK’s poorer breast cancer survival. Let’s have a look at the details.