UK falling behind on cancer care
In the UK there may be up to 15 000 avoidable deaths from cancer every year in people over the age of 75 years. A study presented last week at the National Cancer Intelligence Network annual conference highlights the disparity in cancer mortality rates between the UK and 11 European countries and the USA. Using data from the WHO mortality database, Tony Moran and colleagues showed that between 2003 and 2005, cancer mortality rates in the UK were 23% higher than in six western European countries among those aged 75–84 years and 31% higher than in the USA among people over the age of 85 years. From 1995–97 to 2003–05, there was a 2% increase in cancer death rates in people older than 85 years in the UK; in western Europe, there was a 16% decrease. The UK's National Health Service has some of the world's top researchers and physicians. So why is the UK lagging behind its neighbours in delivering cancer care? There is scant research in this area, but limited access to effective state-of-the-art treatments, with policy makers placing much emphasis on cost-effectiveness for cancer drugs, might play a part.
It is therefore timely that on June 24, the European Commission announced the impending launch of the European Partnership for Action against Cancer. The principles behind this partnership, comprising public and private stakeholders, include improving the prevention and control of cancer, and identifying and addressing the inequalities in cancer care across the European Union. With 75% of all deaths from cancer and 60% of all cancers occurring in people older than 65 years in Europe, tackling the burden of disease in older age groups is central to the partnership's success.
The task of improving cancer care and raising standards in the UK is no minor undertaking, but the current inequalities are unacceptable. Sadly, it is the more vulnerable members of the population who suffer most from disparities in care. The launch of the European initiative is an opportunity for UK health-care providers and policy makers to learn more about delivering and implementing high quality cancer care in practice.