Cancer Comparison: A different European Championship

30. April 2009

For the first time, epidemiologists document a sustainable breakthrough in cancer therapy. The number of cancer patients considered as healed increases significantly in Europe – a result attained by experts during the international EUROCARE-4 Working Group. Those figures represent 150 million people of the European population.

In the light of its significance, the European Journal of Cancer (EJC) dedicated this Tuesday’s edition fully to this topic. The amount of patient data was as sustainable as never before. 93 cancer registers from 23 European countries provided the information enabling politics and the medical profession to derive from important conclusions regarding the future course of action in the battle against cancer. The analyzed data basis includes 13,814,573 diagnosed cases of cancer occurring between 1978 and 2002, 5.2 million records with information on surviving patients.

Poland has the red light

The Italian physician Riccardo Capocaccia at the National Centre for Epidemiology, Surveillance and Health Promotion in Rom who commented the results as the EJC’s guest author considers the submitted numbers “remarkable because they attest a real progress in the fight against cancer.” Or in other words: Because especially before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Europe availed over different healthcare concepts and various medical technological approaches, when you look back, the healing rates were completely different from country to country. But when looking at the studies even the geographically and alleged economic giants in Europe sometimes brag – simply because they don’t always play one of the star roles in this theater even against their own expectations.

For example the healing ranking for men: Here none of the large European countries is on the tops. The EJC reports that in Iceland 47% of all male cancer patients beat the disease forever while in Poland physicians manage to defeat the disease most rarely in only 21 percent of all tumor patients. It looks quite differently when it comes to women though. Here Finland and France are tops with 59% and Poland just reaches 38% on the healing scale.

But then again: Why should we believe this monstrous game with numbers? Is a study credible which attests the healed people the same life expectancy like people without cancer? Probably yes – since a closer look at the core reveals: Compared to other studies, the results here are not distorted due to the so-called lead-time effect.
Here epidemiologists mean cases where an early diagnosis increased the life expectancy statistically due to the acceleration of the recording – but the patient dies in the end just as fast as without an early diagnosis. It is this circumnavigation that makes EUROCARE-4 so valuable. Different from other approaches it allows just one variant: Which type of cancer in which country was healed to what percentage – all that has tangible preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic causes. Sounds logically – but was not substantiated like that before.

Statistics of this nature are a true treasure trove for physicians: They disclose whether certain therapy methods and preventive measures have a long-term effect – or not. For example in France 60 percent of all cases of prostate cancer are considered healed at some point of time while Denmark only reaches 14 percent in this regard. The authors state that the considerable discrepancy is a consequence of PSA-test intensity in both countries. But at the same time they emphasize that the Danish people have similar chances for healing like all the other North Eastern European countries.

Screening shows success

A glance at the cases of breast cancer demonstrates that early screenings support following therapies. The rate of success is 10 percent higher between Western Europe and countries like Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovenia – because many West European countries have breast cancer screenings since the mid nineties while the East European countries didn’t. Anyways, the geographic variations turn out to be drastic at times. The healing rate for stomach cancer for example can be at nine as well as 27 percent depending on the region. The number regarding lung cancer ranges between four and ten percent, colon cancer can be healed in 25 to 40 percent of the cases. It all depends on where you live.

Another statistic is considered particularly sound. Not only the number of long-term healed people increases but also the percentage of the 5-years survivors grows to a meanwhile 50 percent. For the epidemiologist Capocaccia the individual statistics reveal weak spots of the European monitoring system as well – which can be corrected now. In many countries for example there is no reliable data available on children and teenagers of all people since there is no cancer register for the young ones. Here Germany is the exception but weakens slightly in another area: Only the Saarland supplies reliable patient data due to its cancer register – and thus statistically covers only one percent of the German adult population.

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