Why Lung Cancer Survival Rates Vary

Lung cancer survival rates vary in different countries

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Living beyond lung cancer is generally tied to the stage at which it’s detected. But what if survival rates weren’t tied to time of diagnosis, but rather where you lived?

Researchers have found that lung cancer survival times varied widely in six developed countries. This difference couldn't be explained by the timing of diagnosis only. Treatment access and quality and other factors also apparently played a role.

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The study involving nearly 60,000 patients was led by Bernard Rachet, PhD, of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Researchers gathered information on 57,000 individuals diagnosed with lung cancer between 2004 and 2007 in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the UK. The type and stage of cancer were recorded, along with the sex and age of all study participants. The average age of participants was 70.

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common and treatable form of the disease, accounting for 80 percent of all cases. Small cell lung cancer tends to be more aggressive. This study involved patients with both types.

Individuals in the study were followed, and the research team calculated how many of the patients were still alive one year and 18 months after diagnosis. The figures were adjusted for age and other causes of death.

Here were the one-year survival rates from each of the countries:

  • UK – 30 percent
  • Denmark – 34 percent
  • Norway – 39 percent
  • Australia and Canada – 42 percent

Disease stage at diagnosis and survival also varied. People from the UK had the most missing data regarding the stage of lung cancer at diagnosis. British patients also had the lowest survival rates at every stage of the disease.

Survival from early (stage l, ll) disease was relatively high in Canada but not for advanced (stage lll, lV) disease. Just the opposite was true for Denmark, where survival rates were low for early disease but better for more advanced stage cancers.

“Low stage-specific survival in the UK could conceivably arise in part because of suboptimal staging, and this misclassification of stage in a proportion of patients could lead to inappropriate treatment and therefore overall lower survival,” the authors wrote.

Other factors that could account for the fluctuations in survival between nations could have to do with treatment quality and access to care, according to the researchers.

This study was published February 11 in the journal Thorax. This work was supported by the Department of Health, England. Cancer Research UK supports the Cancer Survival Group.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 11, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013