A global study has revealed that Britain has failed to narrow a cancer survival gap behind the best in the world.
Despite improvements in survival rates over the past 15 years, British patients still die of cancer earlier than those in more affluent countries that are improving just as fast, according to data on 37 million patients in 71 countries.
For some cancers, Britain is doing worse than Latin American countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica.
When the international group of scientists first published comparative survival data a decade ago, ministers pledged to close the gap.
Researchers estimated that about 10,000 patients a year died within five years of a diagnosis, but would have lived if British survival rates had matched the best.
Updated figures show that in 2010 to 2014, Britain had still not reached where other affluent countries were in the early 2000s.
For example, 60 per cent of patients survive five years after a bowel cancer diagnosis, up from 52 per cent in the 2000/2004 period. Yet in Australia, where survival was 63.7 per cent 15 years ago, it has increased to 70.7 per cent.
Overall, Britain sits 17th in Europe for bowel cancer survival, unchanged from the early 2000s, and 30th in the world. For prostate cancer Britain is 16th in Europe and 26th in the world.
Michel Coleman from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, lead author of the study, said: “The UK is still underperforming compared with other countries. There has been an increase but it’s still not enough to catch up. It’s fair to say the UK has been improving but the UK isn’t, as politicians have often suggested it should be, up among the best in Europe.”
Breast cancer was the only area where Britain had closed some of the gap. However, Britain still sits 14th in Europe with 85.6 per cent survival, up from 79.8 per cent in 2000 to 2004.
Professor Coleman added: “The UK needs to consider improving funding for health services and the number of specialists to treat cancer patients because by any published metric the UK is not doing well. It’s not only doctors and health professionals but resources like radiotherapy machines are less available in this country.”
He pointed to Denmark, which has closed the gap on other Scandinavian countries with a national cancer plan.
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Better cancer survival rates are achievable, but this requires wholesale improvement, from earlier diagnosis to access to the best treatments.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We know there is more to do, and NHS England is implementing the recommendations of the independent Cancer Taskforce to save a further 30,000 lives a year by 2020.”