A comprehensive analysis, published in the online journal ecancermedicalscience, has detailed how cancer death rates in developed countries have fallen substantially in the last 20 years, despite a general increase in the prevalence of cancer.
It was also found that despite recent reports highlighting the UK’s poor cancer performance compared to the rest of Europe and the USA (which led to the UK being branded the ‘sick man of Europe’), England and Wales have seen the largest increase in spending on health of any country, and largest reduction in cancer deaths overall except the Netherlands. The researchers, based at Bournemouth University, found that England and Wales’ health spend increased by 66%, compared to an average rise of 39%, whilst average male cancer deaths (15 to 74 years) decreased by 25%, compared to an average of 12% amongst other major developed countries. Men in England and Wales now have a lower cancer death rate than men in the USA.
Studying World Health Organisation figures for 1979-1980 and 2000-2002, they also found that, with the exception of Japan and Spain, cancer deaths for men declined significantly more than for women. The authors suggest that this may be due to the impact of life-style changes on women as more enter the work force.
The authors propose that the reduction in cancer deaths is influenced by increased expenditure including the use of newer, and invariably more costly, anti-cancer drugs, but also note that: "Despite the recent increase in the health expenditure of England & Wales (9.3%), it remains below the average (9.85%), and only Japan and Spain, amongst the major developed countries*, spent less. Nonetheless, the Anglo-Welsh increase was the highest and the correlation between a reduction in cancer deaths and increased national expenditures on health, should encourage Governments to respond to the challenge.
The reduction in malignancy deaths in all the countries studied, especially amongst the under 74’s, should be a boost for the patient morale, their families and front-line staff, and particularly in England & Wales. However, this encouraging improvement should not distract from the increased incidence of cancer, especially in England & Wales, as well as the continuing negative link with socio-economic factors."
So whilst the UK is still lagging behind the US and most other countries’ spend on health, it appears to be doing more with proportionately less.
However, lead author Professor Colin Pritchard concludes: "Whilst it may be true to say that the treatment of cancer has never been better, still more needs to be done, especially when facing the challenges posed by the increasing incidence of malignancies in the general population."
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