UK ranks poorly for deadliest cancer survival

Posted on: 4th February 2020

Taskforce calls for government support on World Cancer Day

This World Cancer Day, the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) is calling on UK governments to commit to tackling the stark inequalities in cancer outcomes and has shared data showing that the UK ranks between 14th and 27th out of 29 countries for five year survival for the ‘less survivable cancers’ of the pancreas, lung, stomach, liver, brain and oesophagus [1].

Together, these ‘less survivable cancers’ make up half of all the deaths from common cancers in the UK but they have an average five year survival of under 16% due to a legacy of neglect and underfunding. The Taskforce, including Action Against Heartburn, the British Liver Trust, Guts UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, The Brain Tumour Charity and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, aims to double the survivability of these cancers by 2029.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy at the British Liver Trust, said: “Primary liver cancer is becoming more common at all ages. It is now the 9th most common cause of cancer death and has the largest increase in mortality over the past 10 years compared to all cancers.
“We need liver cancer and the other less survivable cancers to have the same level of attention and funding that has been given to other cancers which has resulted in huge improvements in survival rates and care.”

The research

Research published by the CONCORD programme for the world-wide surveillance of cancer survival, based in the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, shows that the UK ranks below most other countries for these six cancers. The latest CONCORD data (CONCORD-3) recorded world-wide surveillance of five-year survival for patients diagnosed with cancer during the period 2010 to 2014, to enable international comparison of the overall effectiveness of health systems in dealing with cancer. [2]

Out of the 29 selected countries the UK survival averages ranked as 14th for oesophagus cancer, 21st for liver cancer, 22nd for brain cancer, 25th for pancreatic cancer, 26th for stomach cancer and 27th for lung cancer.

Complex and multifaceted reasons

Anna Jewell, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce said:

“We believe that the reasons for the unacceptably poor survival rates for these cancers in the UK are complex and multifaceted and our solutions need to reflect this. Less survivable cancers are difficult to diagnose and we know that diagnosis often takes place in hospital when the cancer has had a chance to spread and treatment options are more limited.

“We urgently need investment in research, symptom awareness campaigns, a focus on earlier diagnosis and better, faster pathways to treatment for patients if we’re going to close the deadly cancer gap.”

The LSCT is hosting an event at the House of Commons today to talk to MPs about the critical situation for people diagnosed with these cancers and the urgent need for a step change in targeted investment in research in order to make much-needed diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs.


[1] Data adapted from Allemani et al., 2018, the Lancet Note that only countries with age–standardised data were taken into account. Comparison tables here. Out of the 29 selected countries the UK survival estimate ranks 14th for oesophagus, 21st for liver, 22nd for brain, 25th for pancreas, 26th for stomach,and 27th for lung.