Over 10,000 avoidable cancer deaths per year

Up to 11,000 deaths from cancer would be avoidable in Britain each year if survival figures matched those of Europe’s best-performing countries, according to Cancer Research UK.

The Conservatives seized on the report to blame the government for failings in the area.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley described the lagging survival rates as a “scandal” and said “Labour are failing thousands of cancer sufferers in this country”.

“We will scrap Labour’s politically-motivated and bureaucratic targets which waste time and money, undermine the judgement of doctors and nurses and mean patients don’t get the care they deserve,” he added.

Late onward referrals to hospital is among the reasons given for the ‘survival gap’, national cancer director Mike Richards believes.

Others include poor awareness of cancer symptoms and late presentation to a GP.

Professor Richards said Britain was playing “catch-up” with the rest of Europe.

Despite noting an improvement in recent years he insisted: “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The results show that if Britain’s survival rates were as good as the European average, there would have been 6,500 fewer deaths annually – within five years of diagnosis – for cancer patients diagnosed between 1995 and 1999.

And if UK rates were as good as the best in Europe, this would equate to around 11,000 fewer deaths in cancer patients each year.

Progress has been made since the late 1980s, when the avoidable deaths figure stood at 12,000.