Breast cancer deaths dropped by more than 20 percent across 15 European countries over the last two decades, with a fall of nearly a third in Britain, according to a study published Thursday.
At the same time, the level of breast cancer mortality in eastern Europe was described as "catastrophic".
AdvertisementThe review of 30 countries, overseen by French researchers, found large decreases in the number of women dying from breast cancer, particularly in Britain and Iceland.
Mortality rates across the 30 countries fell by a fifth to 24 per 100,000 deaths, with Spain claiming the lowest rate at 18.9.
Britain's rate per 100,000 deaths fell from 41.6 to 28.2, although it still lags behind countries such as Germany and France.
The study examined World Health Organisation (WHO) data on cancer death rates from 1989 to 2006 alongside information from individual countries.
Researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, attributed the improvements in Britain to better screening and patient care.
The leader of the study, Philippe Autier, told AFP: "The English were really shocked by their extremely high death rates from breast cancer in the late 1980s, but they took the bull by the horns.
"They have done what they needed to do to succeed and they have grasped that they had to do this in a concerted fashion."
He predicted that within three years, Britain -- long considered one of the worst major European countries for surviving breast cancer -- would have a better survival rate for the disease than France.
Death rates in France, Finland, and Sweden, have decreased by 11 percent, 12 percent and 16 percent since the 1980s, but Autier said the results were disappointing considering the investment in cancer care in the three countries.
"There are three countries that really surprised us. There is a real need to review the system."
Autier said France had made "gigantic efforts" in cancer care and carries out four times more screenings for breast cancer than in Britain, so the results pointed to problems in the way the French system was managed.
Turning to countries in eastern Europe, Autier described the situation as "catastrophic".
"Their big problem is that their health system has not been totally modernised... the issues are essentially financial."
In an accompanying editorial, professors Valerie Beral and Richard Peto, from Oxford University, agreed that apparently poor British survival rates were misleading and blamed problems with the way cancers were recorded.
"In contrast with death registration, cancer registration is not statutory in the UK and is known to be somewhat incomplete," they wrote.
"Partly because of this incompleteness, survival calculations based on registry data make UK cancer survival rates seem significantly worse than they really are."