23rd September 2019

New study paints ‘outdated’ picture of UK lung cancer performance says our chief executive

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A recently-published global study showing Britain bottom of international league tables for cancer survival is ‘behind the times’ and doesn’t reflect recent improvements for people with lung cancer, according to both our chief executive, Paula Chadwick and the NHS.

The report, compiled on behalf of the World Health Organisation, was based on research covering   almost four million patients.

It was widely-reported as showing that improvements in cancer survival rates in the UK have failed to keep pace with those in other comparable countries, with Britain now ranked bottom of the table for lung cancer, among others.

However, the study, published in The Lancet Oncology, covers the period between 2010 and 2014. More recent data show that UK survival rates for lung cancer are improving.

In England, one-year survival for lung cancer has increased by about 15% over the past 20 years, up from 26.3% in 2001 to an overall rate of 41.6%, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Five-year survival is now almost 16% overall.

Paula Chadwick commented, “We know there’s a very long way to go to achieve our ambition of seeing Britain achieve the best survival rates in the world, but there are still reasons to be optimistic.

“This study is behind the times. It gives us a snap-shot of the way things were, not as they are now. In the past three years, we have seen significant improvements in survival rates for people with lung cancer and we expect this trend to continue. So, in that sense, this study is already outdated”.

Paula Chadwick, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation CEO.

While the WHO study places Britain at the bottom of its league table for lung cancer survival, it also shows ‘significant improvements’ have taken place in all seven of the ‘high income’ countries it tracked.

It also points out that around half of cancers (of all types) are diagnosed at stage three or four, when disease has spread and is more difficult to treat. Early diagnosis of lung cancer has always been a priority for our charity.

Paula Chadwick added, “Ever since we began almost 30 years ago, we have focused on improving ways to detect lung cancer at its earliest stages. Our work is paying off. The pilot projects we funded in Nottingham have helped to convince the government and NHS England of the value of targeted lung health checks.

“We’ve seen the roll out of 14 lung health check projects at ten locations across England – and we see this as being just the start of what we really want to achieve – a national lung cancer screening programme. We firmly believe that would really change the UK lung cancer survival rates”.

An NHS spokesman said, “This report is based on out-of-date data and in the five years since the study’s research ended, cancer survival has actually hit a record high, thanks to improvements in NHS cancer services, including the introduction of revolutionary treatments like immunotherapy”.

If you’ve been worried by reading reports of this new study, or simply want to know more about lung cancer, we have information leaflets you can download and our Ask The Nurse service also offers support and advice.