A string of national cancer strategies have failed to close the survival gap with Europe, a study has found.
Although cancer survival rates in Britain have steadily improved over the past two decades, we still lag behind the majority of Europe.
The study found that a series of strategies – developed by governments and charities – had done nothing to accelerate advances and close the gap.
Experts examined the records of 3.5 million people with the 24 most common cancers between 1996 and 2000 and showed the major plans had no impact on the illness
They had also failed to reduce the gulf in survival rates between the rich and poor.
The NHS Cancer Plan launched in 2000 to tackle inequalities and improve cancer survival to levels comparable with Europe. Other schemes followed, including the Cancer Reform Strategy in 2007, the National Cancer Equality Initiative in 2008, and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative in 2008.
The researchers, from The Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, assessed the impact of these strategies in England by analysing the records of 3.5million patients with 24 of the most common cancers, including prostate, lung and breast cancer. The authors first analysed records between 1996 and 2000 – before the first major plan was introduced.
Policies that did nothing
2000 NHS Cancer Plan promised UK survival rates would be among the best in Europe and pledged an extra £280million in 2001-02 rising to £570million by 2003-04.
The ten-year programme aimed to save more lives, tackle the inequalities in health and build for the future by investing in research.
2007 Cancer Reform Strategy promised £370million by 2010. It aimed to speed up drug approval and gave more money to radiotherapy. Breast and bowel cancer screening programmes were extended.
2008 National Cancer Equality Initiative brought together healthcare professionals, the voluntary sector and academics to develop research proposals on cancer inequalities and to test interventions.
2008 National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative was a partnership between the Department of Health, the NHS and Cancer Research UK. It aimed to increase awareness of cancer symptoms and to promote early diagnosis.
They worked out one-year survival rates by gender, year of diagnosis and level of deprivation.
The team compared these figures to those between 2001 and 2005, when the first strategy had been implemented, and then again with patients between 2006 and 2013.
One-year survival improved at a similar rate from 1996 for more than half of the cancers, suggesting the strategies had little impact, the British Medical Journal reports.
For nine cancers, such as kidney cancer in women and brain cancer in men, improvement in survival was initially negligible but increased from 2001 to 2006. However, these increases were between only 1 and 2 per cent a year.
Lead author Aimilia Exarchakou said: ‘We found little evidence that cancer policies have had a direct impact on survival in England.’
People from poorer backgrounds continue to experience the worst prognosis, with ‘deprivation gaps’ remaining as high as 7 per cent for men and 9 per cent for women.
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said that although England’s success in dealing with cancer still lagged behind other comparable countries, overall survival had been improving since 2000.
The Department of Health said: ‘Cancer survival rates are at a record high. This government is committed to investing in the discovery of new treatments and access to the best drugs.’
One-year survival improved at a similar rate from 1996 for more than half of the cancers, suggesting the strategies had little impact, the British Medical Journal reports