UK lags behind the rest of EU in cancer treatment

Cancer survival rates in Britain are “stuck in the 1990s”, trailing behind comparable EU countries both in terms of regular treatment and cutting edge technology.

According to Macmillan Cancer Support, in the UK, five year survival rates for a range of common cancers are trailing 10 years behind other European countries. Austria had better lung cancer survival rates between 1995-1999 (14%) than Britain had between 2005-2009 (10%).

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said, “This analysis exposes the harsh reality that because UK cancer survival rates are lagging so far behind the rest of Europe, people are dying needlessly. Frankly, this is shameful.”

“What we can see here is that better cancer survival rates are not unachievable. If countries like Sweden, France, Finland and Austria can achieve these rates, then the UK can and should, bridge the gap,” she added.

>>Read: Europe’s Cancer Challenge

In more bad news for the UK, it is also off the pace when it comes to hi-tech proton beam therapy.

A lack of facilities has seen the NHS send 400 children abroad since 2008 for treatment at an average cost of £100,000 per patient.

Two centres are due to open in London and Manchester at a cost of £250 million, but not until 2018.

Germany currently has three proton beam facilities. France has two, as does Poland. There is also one in the Czech Republic.

Proton beam therapy is especially effective in the treatment of brain, spine and prostate tumours, and in the treatment of fast-growing childhood cancers.

>>Read: The Netherlands continues to have the best health care system in the EU

The technology allows for more rapid movement and energy variation of the proton beam than is currently available from existing technologies.

Nick Plowman, Senior Clinical Oncologist to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, described proton beam radiotherapy as the cancer treatment of the future. “Collateral damage to adjacent normal body tissues is minimised by this form of radiation therapy.  The next generation ‘LIGHT’ protons look to supplant current generation technology.”

In 2011 across the EU 1 in 4 deaths were caused by cancer. The cost of drugs, healthcare and lost earnings was over €125 billion in 2009. 

The National Health Service will be a key battle ground in this year’s general election.

Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband have already clashed over the issue of waiting times for cancer patients.

Last year,  a Europe-wide man hunt was launched after five-year-old Ashya King’s parents removed him from hospital and flew to Spain. They claimed they were unable to access the latest cancer treatment in the UK. After initially being arrested they were released without charge and travelled to Prague for treatment. Ashya’s cancer is now in remission. 

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