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Cancer survival rates climb in Spain

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Cancer survival rates climb in Spain
Photo of cancer patient: Shutterstock
09:32 CET+01:00
Spain saw a strong rise in five-year cancer survival rates from 1995 to 2009, but poorer countries are missing out on the benefits of improved diagnosis and treatment methods, a major new global study shows.

Spain’s overall five-year survival rate rose for all types of cancer diagnosed in the decade in question, according to the results of the Concord 2 study published in leading medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday.

Among Spanish adults, the greatest improvement was seen in survival for people suffering from prostate cancer.

A total of 73.7 percent of people diagnosed with this type of tumour from 1995 to 1999 survived for five years.  For people diagnosed from 2005 to 2009, however, the rate was 87.1 percent.     

That puts Spain high up in the global rankings, and in the same bracket as countries like Switzerland and Sweden.

Strong improvements were also seen for cancer of the colon and rectum, and for breast cancer, where the survival rate rose from 77.8 percent to 83.7 percent.

The rise in survival rates for these cancers — in line with general upward trends for developing countries — was likely to reflect earlier diagnosis and better treatments such as pre-operative radiotherapy and total excision of large sections of the bowel for rectal cancer, the study authors said.

However Spain’s record on stomach cancer, like that of many European countries, remains relatively poor. Despite the improvements, the 27.3 percent survival rate from 2005 to 2009 is still a long way below the figure for Japan (54 percent) and Korea (58 percent), where diagnostic activity is more intensive and surgery is more aggressive.

Lung cancer survival rates in Spain are also poor — 12.6 percent at the end of the decade studied — suggesting most patients still go to see their doctors too late for treatment to be effective, according to study authors. Spain’s survival rate is, however, still higher than in most European countries. In the UK the figure is 9.3 percent and in Denmark it is 11.3 percent.  

The study of over 25 million people in 67 countries also reveals a large rise in the survival rate for Spanish children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The increase here was from 73.8 percent from 1995 to 1999 to 83.3 percent a decade later.

That means Spain is catching up with countries like Canada, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Norway where the five-year survival rate for children with this cancer is over 90 percent.

But the study also showed the huge global gap in treating children with this form of leukaemia. In Jordan, the survival rate was just 16.45 from 2005 to 2009. That figure was 39.5 in Lesotho and 50.15 percent in Tunisia.    

"Our findings show that in some countries, cancer is far more lethal than in others—in the 21st century there should not be such a dramatic gulf in survival," said Dr Claudia Allemani, lead study author and Senior Lecturer in Cancer Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"The majority of the variability in survival is probably due to factors that can be changed, such as the availability and quality of diagnostic and treatment services. The findings can be used to evaluate the extent to which investment in health-care systems is improving their effectiveness. We expect them to act as a stimulus for politicians to improve health policy and invest in health care," she added.

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