The UK is trailing behind other European countries when it comes to diagnosing and treating cancer, a new report says.
The study, commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) which represents drugs firms, also points to worse survival rates in the UK.
Compared to the average for Europe, the UK lags behind on nine out of 10 cancers when it comes to survival – including bowel, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate and kidney cancer.
It also has the second worst survival rates for lung cancer and the second worst survival for pancreatic cancer.
The UK spends 20% less per person on cancer than other EU economies – including the Netherlands, Italy and France, the report from Swedish researchers said.
According to the analysis, if the UK achieved the cancer survival rates of Germany, more than 35,000 more people would be alive five years after diagnosis.
And if the UK had the cancer death rates of France, more than 100,000 women’s deaths could be prevented over the next decade.
The report also said that cancer medicines introduced in the last five years account for only 10% of cancer medicine costs per year, suggesting the UK is using older medicines.
Dr Richard Torbett, executive director at the ABPI, 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, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, 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 report’s focus on the importance of data collection to better understand the value of new cancer drugs is welcomed, as is its call to find improved ways of making drugs available to patients that would benefit.
“But if survival is to improve, the UK needs to get better at diagnosing and treating cancer earlier to give patients the best chance of surviving their disease.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “The Government’s ambition is for cancer outcomes in this country to be the best in Europe, and these worrying figures make plain how much there is still to do.
“Nearly 11,500 women are still losing their lives to breast cancer every year in the UK and we continue to lag unacceptably behind Europe on our investment, survival rates and access to the best medicines.
“While more women are surviving breast cancer than ever before in the UK, this devastating disease is far from a done deal.
“Together, we must act and invest now to prevent more cancers, detect the disease earlier, and discover new and targeted therapies for patients currently lacking options.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This report does not accurately reflect our current performance on cancer – survival rates are at a record high and around 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago.
“We have one of the most extensive cancer screening programmes in Europe and, compared with Germany, we now have lower mortality rates for cervical and colorectal cancer.
“But to make more progress we’re implementing the recommendations of the cancer taskforce to save a further 30,000 lives by 2020.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “With big falls in smoking, many more people getting cancer check-ups and new cancer treatments, cancer survival is now at a record high in England.
“The ABPI is hardly a disinterested commentator and it should have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge what the independent cancer task-force 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.”