Cancer care

Australia leads on cancer survival rates

Australia fares well in terms of cancer survival rates compared to other developed countries such as New Zealand and the UK, new figures show.

An international comparison of survival rates for seven cancers: oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung, and ovary found that rates were generally highest in Australia, Canada and Norway and lower in New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and the UK.

Data from 3.9 million cases over 20 years showed that in the most recent five year period of 2010–14, Australia had the highest one-year survival rate for most cancers, while New Zealand ranked lowest in improvements on survival for many cancers.

The increases in cancer survival over time were likely due to healthcare reforms and advances in technology that enable earlier diagnosis, more effective and tailored treatment and better patient management, said researchers in Lancet Oncology.

“Improvements in surgical techniques and new guidelines including preoperative radiotherapy as well as better diagnosis and scanning, enabling better staging of cancers and selection for targeted therapies, have all improved patient outcomes,” said study author Dr Melina Arnold of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

“Improvements in survival were largely seen among younger patients (aged <75 years) and might relate to the relatively wider access to adjuvant chemotherapy and ability of these patients to tolerate more aggressive treatments than older age groups,” the study authors noted.

“Additionally, better diagnosis and staging with new technologies such as PET-CT imaging, alongside greater precision in the selection of patients for targeted therapies on the basis of molecular markers, have probably contributed.”

Key findings for five year survival rates:

  • Oesophageal cancer: survival was highest in Australia (23.5%) and lowest in Denmark (14.7%).
  • Stomach cancer: Australia had the highest (32.8%) survival rates and the UK had the lowest (20.8%), while New Zealand saw the lowest improvements in survival.
  • Colon cancer:  70.8% of patients in Australia lived for five years after diagnosis (highest), compared with 58.9% in the UK (lowest).
  • Rectal cancer saw the largest improvements in survival. Australia had the highest survival (70.8%), while the UK had the lowest (62.1%).
  • Pancreatic cancer had the lowest five-year survival rates of cancers studied, ranging from 14.6% in Australia (highest) to 7.9% in the UK (lowest) . In Australia, survival increased by 8.2 percentage points (from 6.4% in 1995-99 to 14.6% in 2010-14), but in New Zealand survival rates remained static (-0.6% percentage points – from 8.8% to 8.2% survival).
  • Lung cancer: Canada had the highest five-year survival (21.7%) while the UK had the lowest (14.7%).
  • Ovarian cancer: survival was highest in Norway (46.2%) and lowest in Ireland (36%).

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