Cancer survival has improved across Europe, with eastern European nations beginning to close the gap with western neighbours, according to a study covering the decade up to 2002, released Tuesday.
The study, published in the British journal The Lancet, showed a clear link between high rates of survival and the amount spent on health, but pointed out that Britain lagged well behind other countries with similar national health budgets.
An accompanying editorial in the influential journal called for a 'fundamental reassessment' of Britain's cancer policy in light of the fact that survival rates were comparable to eastern European countries that spent two-thirds less.
'So has the cancer plan worked? The short answer is seemingly no,' it concluded, suggesting that the National Health Service should be 'divorced from political control and short-term political gains.'
The 23-country study, the largest of its kind, said that the survival rate for the most common cancers -- colorectal, lung, breast and prostate -- and for ovarian cancer was highest in Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, and in central Europe.
It was somewhat lower in southern Europe, including Spain and Italy, lower still in Britain and Ireland, and lowest in eastern Europe.
Poland and the Czech Republic, however, showed sharp improvement across most major cancers in the period studied, suggesting that eastern European countries were closing the health gap.
From 1991 to 2002, survival rates in eastern Europe improved from 30.3 to 44.7 percent for colorectal cancer, from 60.0 to 73.9 percent for breast cancer, and from 39.5 to 68.0 percent for prostate cancer.
For patients diagnosed in 2000-2002, survival for patients across Europe with tumours was significantly lower than in the United States: 47.3 percent for men and 55.8 for women, compared to 66.3 and 62.9 percent respectively, the study noted.
The journal called for the development of a 'pan-European cancer plan' to promote modern diagnostic and treatment facilities.
It noted in particular that Britain should emphasize earlier diagnosis of the disease.