Are old drugs a real killer in ‘cancer capital’ UK?

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A shock report reveals that cancer victims in the UK have less chance of surviving than many other European countries.

And we are trailing behind Romania, Latvia and Greece as far as  diagnosing and treating cancer are concerned.

Tragically the UK survival is behind Europe on nine out of ten cancers including bowel, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate and kidney. Only Bulgaria has worse survival rates than the UK for lung cancer. And Iceland is worse for pancreatic cancer.

The UK ranks 20th – behind Malta, Czech and Slovenia – when looking at survival chances across all forms of the disease, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.

Sweden comes top, followed by Finland and Iceland.

The report was completed by the Swedish Institute for Health Economics on a commission from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

The report says cancer medicines in the last five years account for only 10 per cent of cancer medicine spending in the UK which appears to suggest that we are actually prescribing old-style medicines.

It also shows that we spend at least 20 per cent less per person on the killer disease than the top five EU economies – that includes the Netherlands, Italy and France.

More than 35,000 extra people would still be alive five years after their diagnosis if the UK achieved the cancer survival rates of Germany.

And more than 100,000 women’s deaths could be prevented over the next decade if the UK had the cancer death rates of France.

Swedes are a third more likely than Brits to survive cancer for more than five years, the figures show.

Dr Richard Corbett, speaking on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, said: “The report shows the impact that comparatively lower levels of UK investment in cancer is having on the quality of care available to British patients.

“We are seeing that investment in cancer diagnosis and treatments like surgery, medicine and radiotherapy, in countries across Europe is leading to better survival rates and we have to ask whether this should be the ambition for the NHS.

“This should be a wake-up call for the UK to refocus the way we tackle cancer across the board.

“To make progress we need to look at investing more money to hasten the implementation of the Cancer Strategy; we need to speed up, not slow down, patient access to cost-effective medicines in the NHS and we need to create a more ambitious plan for using real-world evidence to shine a light on cancer treatment outcomes.”

Emma Greenwood, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Five-year cancer survival in the UK has improved, but overall we still lag behind other similar countries, except for breast cancer, where the UK is narrowing this gap.

“The UK needs to get better at diagnosing and treating cancer earlier to give patients the best chance of surviving their disease.”

Lynda Thomas, from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “No matter where you live, you should be given the best possible chance to survive cancer.”

 However, an NHS England spokesperson said: “The ABPI is hardly a disinterested commentator. It should acknowledge what the independent cancer taskforce set out – namely that the biggest opportunities for further improvements in UK cancer survival currently come mainly from earlier diagnosis and modern radiotherapy and surgery, as against just higher spending on cancer drugs with a modest impact on life expectancy.”

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