Cancer treatment in UK lags behind other comparable countries, study says

The UK lagged behind other similar countries in cancer treatment, with patients waiting longer before starting chemotherapy, according to two new studies.

Researchers analysed data from more than 780,000 cancer patients in Australia, Canada, Norway, and the UK.

They found that UK cancer patients received chemotherapy and radiation less often than in the other three countries, with older patients the least likely to receive the treatments.

The findings were published in two papers in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

“Countries whose cancer survival is lower than similar countries, such as the UK, have higher referral thresholds, higher proportions of cancer patients diagnosed as emergency hospital admissions, relatively lower capacity for specialist diagnostics, and, as we have learned just now, lower use of radiotherapy and chemotherapy,” said Georgios Lyratzopoulos, a senior author of the study and professor at University College London.

“Improving cancer survival is complex, requiring actions at multiple levels, including the delivery of clinical services. To improve the UK’s cancer outcomes, we need to continue to investigate what is driving international variation in treatment,” he added.

 Cancer cases are expected to grow by 22.5 per cent in Europe by 2045. 

‘Timing really matters’

Patients in the UK faced long waits to start treatment, with the shortest amount of days to wait for chemotherapy in England and the longest in Scotland, the studies showed.

Cancer patients in Norway and Australia started radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the quickest amount of time, the authors said.

The research papers looked at eight cancers: oesophageal, stomach, colon, rectal, liver, pancreatic, lung and ovarian, They found variations in treatment depending on the type of cancer.

One limitation of the studies was that the most recent study year was 2017, the authors said, meaning the findings “might not represent current” radiotherapy and chemotherapy use.

“All cancer patients, no matter where they live, deserve to receive the highest quality care. But this research shows that UK patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy less often than comparable countries,” Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said in a statement.

“When it comes to treating cancer, timing really matters. Behind these statistics are people waiting anxiously to begin treatment that is key to boosting their chances of survival,” she added, urging the UK government to work to change the trends seen in the study.

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