International comparisons of cancer care

The OECD uses survival rates for three cancers – breast, cervical and colorectal (bowel) – as indicators of the quality of care provided by healthcare systems, together with cancer screening and mortality indicators.

According to Cancer Research UK, in 2011, breast cancer was the most common female cancer in the UK with 49,936 new cases (30% of all new cases in women) and there were 3,064 new cases for cancer of the cervix (2% of all new female cancer cases).

In the same year, bowel cancer was the third most common cancer among women (18,410 new cases, 11% of all new cases) as well as men (23,171 new cases, 14% of all new male cases). In 2012, 29,928 people died because of these three cancers (18% of all cancer deaths).

For more in-depth international comparions of cancer care, see our report.

How does breast cancer screening coverage compare to other countries?

Breast cancer screening coverage of females aged 50-69 in the UK has been steady over the years with an average of 76%. UK has one of the highest screening rates of the comparator OECD countries, with higher rates only in Finland (84.8%) and the Netherlands (80.1%) in 2011. 

Last updated: July 2015.

Source: 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

How does cervical cancer screening coverage compare to other countries?

Data collection varies in each country. Some countries collect survey data and some have screening programmes, symbols in the chart denote data collection: ^ = Survey data * = Programme data.

When compared to other countries, the UK has had one of the highest cervical cancer screening rates since 2000. However, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of women screened, from 84% in 2000 to 78% in 2013. Screening rates have been more or less steady since 2008 with an average of 76.4% females aged 20-69 screened.

Source: 
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

How does five-year colon cancer survival in the UK compare to other countries?

Bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. The disease has a higher prevalence in America and Europe compared to Asia, however in countries where people are adopting western diets, such as Japan, the incidence of colon cancer is increasing. There are multiple screening methods available including the faecal occult blood test, colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy. Advances in diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer have led to increased survival over the last decade.

While the five-year colon cancer survival rate in the UK has been increasing over time, in 2010-2014 survival reached only 60%. This is the lowest five-year survival rate out of the 18 OECD countries that we included. Over the same time period in Australia it was as high as 70.6%, and Belgium and Japan reached a five-year colon cancer survival of 67.8%.

Updated April 2018.

How does five-year cervical cancer survival in the UK compare to other countries?

International trends in five-year relative survival for cervical cancer show more cross country variation over time than for five-year relative breast cancer survival. While survival has been improving in the UK, the country is still one of the worst performers relative to the other OECD countries included, with a five-year survival of only 60.9% in 2007-2012. This is despite a relatively high cervical cancer screening coverage. In comparison, survival in Sweden in the same year was 67.3% while survival in Korea reached 76.8% in 2005-2010.

Source: 
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

How does five-year colorectal cancer survival in the UK compare to other countries?

Trends for five-year relative colorectal cancer survival resemble the trends for five-year relative breast cancer survival. While there has been a continuous increase in the UK over time, in 2007-2012 five-year relative survival reached only 54.5%. In the same period in Sweden it was as high as 63.9%, Australia reached 66.2% in 2005-2010 and Korea was the OECD's best performing country, with a five-year relative survival of 72.8%.

Overall, as survival rates capture both how good the system is in detecting the disease and whether people have rapid access to effective treatment, it is essential to better understand what could be done to further improve survival rates and close the gap with other OECD countries.

Given that cervical and breast cancer screening coverage is already relatively high in the UK, it would be important to further examine any potential delays in diagnosis (after screening or first presentation with symptoms) and access to effective treatment. However, there is still plenty of scope to improve colorectal cancer screening coverage (von Wagner et al, 2011) (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/3/712.short). In addition, changes to the screening programme (e.g. a new bowel scope screening programme) may also increase the proportion of cancers detected by screening.

Source: 
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

How does breast cancer mortality compare internationally over time?

Breast cancer mortality in the UK has been declining and fell from 37.7 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001 to 29.1 deaths per 100,000 women in 2013. However, the UK is consistently amongst the four countries with the highest mortality rate. The comparator countries with the lowest mortality rates are Korea, Japan and Spain. Since the late 1990s the incidence of breast cancer has been increasing in both the UK (from 68.8 per 100,000 women in 1998 to 95 per 100,000 women in 2012) and Spain (from 49.6 per 100,000 women in 1998 to 67.3 per 100,000 women in 2012).

Updated June 2017.

How does cervical cancer mortality compare internationally over time?

Cervical cancer mortality rates in the UK fell between 2001 and 2006 (from 3.6 to 2.8 deaths per 100,000 women) and since then they have plateaued at 2.7 deaths per 100,000 women – one of the highest mortality rates of all the comparator countries. Italy consistently has the lowest death rate of only one death per 100,000 women. Incidence rates for cervical cancer in Italy and the UK are very similar and have shown a decline: in Italy the rate fell from 9.1 per 100,000 women in 2000 to 6.7 per 100,000 women in 2012, while in the UK the incidence rate fell from 9.3 per 100,000 women in 2000 to 7.1 per 100,000 women in 2012.

Updated June 2017.

How does colorectal cancer mortality compare internationally over time?

Colorectal cancer mortality has been slowly declining over time. In the UK it fell from 20.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 17.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2013 and the UK’s performance on this indicator lies in between the comparator countries. Greece generally has the lowest mortality rates of the comparator countries (13.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2012).

Updated June 2017.

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