New cancer report highlights 'significant differences' in survival rates across EU

Despite having the second largest cancer mortality rate, pancreatic cancer remains Europe's major unmet' medical need, argues Arne Björnberg.

By Arne Björnberg

21 Mar 2014

The first-ever EU-wide survey of pancreatic cancer care highlights significant differences in survival rates between European countries.

Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer where mortality rates continue to increase; within 10 years, it will be the second largest cause of cancer death in Europe. Already the number of deaths is on a par with those from breast cancer.

Despite this, pancreatic cancer remains a major unmet medical need, characterised by high mortality, limited effective treatment options and an air of resignation among doctors.

These were the worrying conclusions of the Euro Pancreatic Cancer Index (EPCI) 2014, the first Europe-wide survey of how pancreatic cancer care is delivered in 30 countries (28 EU member states, Norway and Switzerland).

"Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer where mortality rates continue to increase; within 10 years, it will be the second largest cause of cancer death in Europe"

The Index was produced by the Health Consumer Powerhouse, the Swedish healthcare think-tank.

I believe that one of the reasons why pancreatic cancer fares so poorly is the lack of patient advocates. The extremely high mortality rates rob the disease of potential champions. Sadly, even when dealing with such high unmet needs as pancreatic cancer, the 'squeaky wheel gets the oil'.

Because other cancers have vocal supporters, they get a greater share of attention. To reverse the appalling situation for pancreatic cancer requires policymakers to make it a priority.

Early diagnosis is the most effective way to improve outcomes. If detected early enough, tumours can be surgically removed. Therefore, there should be efforts to improve early detection. These could include directing European research resources towards improved diagnostics.

In addition, surgery for the disease is best concentrated in specialist centres. Cross-border care will be vitally important, particularly in smaller member states that lack the resources to set up national centres; barriers and time lags need to be removed.

There is also a need for better information. Effective disease registries, ideally with data that is compatible across borders to encourage sharing.

Already there are marked differences in outcomes between countries - from less than three per cent survival to over seven per cent. Sharing data will encourage cooperation between countries on best practice, and help pull all member states up to the highest common denominator.

However, this will not happen spontaneously; it needs momentum that can only come from policymakers.

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